The winner of the Louisville-Cincinnati game will have an indefinite hold on the Keg of Nails trophy.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – ESPN Thursday night football. National television. The two best head coaches in the league. One program leaving the other program in its rear-view mirror. Rivalry game. Corny trophy to the winner. Four days until Heisman Trophy ballots are due.
Those are just some of the bullet points for the football game Louisville (10-1) and Cincinnati (9-2) will play in Nippert Stadium at 7:30 Thursday night. We all know what the first bullet point was supposed to be, but enough cyber-space has been spoiled bemoaning that.
So better to focus on What Is instead of What Was Supposed To Be. The best way to do that?
Five reasons that Cincinnati will win this game – and five reasons that Louisville will return home with indefinite possession of the Keg of Nails.
I'll begin with Tommy Tuberville University because A) I think Cincinnati hired a splendid coach; B) most of you think the Bearcats have little shot and C) I had to work considerably harder to come up with these five parts of the column.
1. I expect that you're reading this inside – or holding an umbrella. As WDRB's Marc Weinberg has been telling you for days, it's going to rain. And rain. And rain.
By kickoff, the temperature will be around 42 degrees with a 70 percent chance of rain. It will get colder and wetter as the night continues.
That favors the team with the stronger running game. That team is Cincinnati. The Bearcats average nearly 173 yards rushing, the Cards 148. The Bearcats ran for 196 yards in the game last season, forcing Louisville to win in overtime, 34-31.
2. Cincinnati has never lost a Thursday night game in Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats are 8-0. One of those wins was against Louisville.
3. Louisville is playing for the Keg of Nails – and to avoid any chance that the Cardinals' post-season flight will be diverted to Charlotte and the Belk Bowl. "We don't want to go back to the Belk Bowl," U of L defensive end Marcus Smith said.
Cincinnati is playing for a chance to make a BCS Bowl game.
Well, not really. But I had to say it. If the Bearcats win and Central Florida loses at SMU, the Bearcats and UCF will tie for first place in the American Athletic Conference. The tiebreaker goes to the team with the higher ranking in the final BCS standings.
Could that team be Cincinnati? Sure. But there's a better chance that the game ball will arrive tonight on an Amazon drone.
4. Cincinnati is hot. The Bearcats have won six straight and covered the spread in four of their last five wins.
5. Did I mention it was going to rain? A lot? Fourth-quarter focus will matter. Louisville's fourth-quarter focus has been fuzzy. The Cardinals have been outscored in the fourth quarter in five games. The Bearcats have been solid over the final 15 minutes, outscoring their opponents 90-55.
WHY LOUISVILLE WILL WIN
1. The Cards are better. Much better. It doesn't matter if you ask Jeff Sagarin, Knute Rockne, Brian Kelly or Brandon Phillips. Vegas makes Louisville a 3 ½-point favorite, but Sagarin's predictor rankings have it Louisville by 8 ½.
The Cardinals are ranked at least 13 spots ahead of the Bearcats in all six BCS computer formulas. They all can't be wrong.
2. Cincinnati quarterback Brandon Kay has thrown nine interceptions, five in the last four games. Louisville's defense has feasted on inaccurate quarterbacks with 14 picks.
3. In case you haven't gotten the news, it's going to rain. All night. Defense rules. Forget what you saw in the last 20 minutes against UCF. Louisville plays better defense than the Bearcats. Cincinnati gives up 4.7 yards per snap, the Cards only 4.1.
4. Louisville lost to Central Florida. The Knights are 10-1. Cincinnati lost to Illinois and South Florida. The Illini are 4-8, the Bulls 2-9. I refuse to believe that a team with losses to those two slugs can win 10 games.
5. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will not lose his final regular season game as a Cardinal. I don't need a bunch of numbers to back that up. It just seems like the right thing to say.