BOZICH | Picking Toughest Game on U of L, UK, IU, WKU schedules
LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- The customers always write – and often with intriguing questions. On Wednesday, during our weekly web chat at WDRB.com, a viewer asked Eric Crawford and me this question:
Which game will be Louisville's toughest victory?
Crawford gave the sensible answer – Florida State, which visits Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Oct. 30.
Who can argue with that? The Seminoles are ranked first in nearly every poll. They won the national title last season. They're quarterbacked by Jameis Winston, the 2013 Chessman Trophy winner. You know the list. It's impressive.
Like I said, who can argue with that?
I can argue with that.
And I did argue with that. The answer is a Florida team, but it's not Florida State. It's Miami, Louisville's opponent on opening night, Sept. 1.
Here's why: After beating the Hurricanes by 27 points in the Russell Athletic Bowl last December, the Cards are favored by 3 ½ points eight months later. The home field advantage is worth three points.
The wise guys believe that the addition of bruising Miami halfback Duke Johnson, plus the subtraction of three first-round draft picks from the Louisville lineup means Toss Up City.
You never want to lose your opener. Especially when it's your first game in a new conference. Especially when it's your first game with your new coaching staff. Especially when it's against a team you beat by more than three touchdowns eight months ago.
Florida State will be a tough game for Bobby Petrino's team. But the Cards will get extra credit if they can topple the Seminoles. Miami is a game the U of L fan base expects to win even though Las Vegas says it won't be another beat down.
Miami is the toughest game on the Cardinals' schedule.
Let's continue the fun by asking the question three more times: What's the toughest game on Kentucky's schedule? Indiana's? And Western Kentucky's?
For Kentucky, it's Vanderbilt in Commonwealth Stadium Sept. 27.
For Indiana, it's Bowling Green. Amazingly, the Hoosiers must visit northwestern Ohio on Sept. 13 to play the Falcons.
For Western, it's Navy.
Vanderbilt is the most beatable Southeastern Conference team on UK's schedule. The Commodores are missing a dozen starters as well as their head coach from last season. They're breaking in a new quarterback.
The Wildcats have lost three straight to Vandy, by an average of nearly 30 points per game. But this game is different. It's in late September, not mid-November. It's also in Commonwealth Stadium.
It gets better. The Wildcats get Vandy off a bye week. Vanderbilt does not enjoy a bye. In fact Vanderbilt plays South Carolina a week before visiting Lexington.
Major scheduling advantage to Kentucky.
South Carolina, Louisiana State and Georgia will be difficult games, based strictly on talent. But Vandy will be tougher because the UK fan base will expect a win as evidence of improvement at Kentucky.
Indiana should not be playing at Bowling Green. There's no benefit from playing a Mid-American Conference team on the road, even a MAC team that won 10 games last season.
One game that Bowling Green lost in 2013 was at Indiana. The Hoosiers are trying to demonstrate progress and get to at least six victories for the first time since 2007. A victory at Bowling Green will be essential to that assignment.
If Indiana loses that game as well as the following week at Missouri, the Hoosiers' route to six victories will become extremely choppy. Bowling Green is as tough as it gets for IU early in the season.
I'd argue that Western Kentucky's most impressive victory last season was a 19-7 win over Navy. The Hill toppers were three-point underdogs. But they knocked Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds out of the game and stuffed Navy's triple-option attack.
Now comes the rematch. In Annapolis. With Reynolds back to quarterback the formidable Midshipmen.
Western starts the season with Bowling Green, Illinois and Middle Tennessee. Then comes Navy, a tough and defining moment early in the season.
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