BOZICH | Are Louisville's first 3 games nation's toughest? Almos - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Are Louisville's first 3 games nation's toughest? Almost

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Louisville opens its season against three teams that all won at least eight games in 2014. Louisville opens its season against three teams that all won at least eight games in 2014.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – On Thursday, I noted that for the first time since 1992 the University of Louisville football team was booked against a ranked opponent in the Cardinals’ season opener.

That would be Auburn, ranked sixth in the Associated Press Top 25 and the pick to win the national championship by at least two writers for Sports Illustrated. The Cards will play the Tigers for the first time since 1974 (think T.W. Alley Era) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome.

Now it’s time for the rest of the story. When was the last time Louisville played two ranked opponents in its first three games?

And, do the games against Auburn and No. 12 Clemson (Sept. 17) give coach Bobby Petrino’s team the toughest three-game opening stretch in college football?

A. In 1991, Howard Schnellenberger booked U of L against No. 11 Tennessee and No. 19 Ohio State in the Cards’ second and third games. Schnellenberger talked big – and scheduled bigger.

B. The Cards are parked solidly in the discussion for the most demanding three-game opening stretch, but I’ve got to name another program the winner.

I checked the schedules of all 128 FBS teams. Six kickoff with two ranked opponents in the first three games. Only 47 even play one ranked opponent.

Here are the five teams Louisville is competing against for the toughest opening stretch – Virginia, BYU, Alabama, Arkansas State and SMU.

Here is how I rank them.

6. Alabama. Kudos to Nick Saban. He regularly books the Crimson Tide against a solid non-Southeastern Conference opponent to start the season. Over the previous three seasons, Alabama has played West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Michigan.

On Saturday, Alabama plays Wisconsin, ranked 20th. Then the Crimson Tide return home to play Middle Tennessee and Ole Miss, ranked 17th.

We’ll learn things about Bama from day one. But this is not the toughest start. No road games and MTSU finished 6-6 last season.

5. Arkansas State. At Southern California, ranked eighth. Home against No. 24 Missouri, two-time winner of the SEC East. Missouri State at home.

Bravo, Red Wolves. That’s the way to do it, especially for a team from the Sun Belt Conference. But you did not crack my top four.

4. Virginia. Cavaliers’ coach Mike London can find his name on most of the pre-season Hot Seat Lists, but Virginia’s schedule won’t do anything for his job security.

UVA opens at No. 13 UCLA Saturday. They return to Charlottesville to play No. 11 Notre Dame. The third game is a gimme, another home game against FCS middleweight William & Mary. It’s formidable. But there’s a W in there, Coach London.

3. BYU. Now we’re diving into the debate. The Cougars’ easiest game in their first three is booked for Saturday, when they visit unranked Nebraska, which went 9-4 last season. BYU is a 6 ½-point underdog. It’s not Nebraska of the Tommie Frazier Era, but it’s Nebraska.

Then comes the fun stuff. A home game with No. 23 Boise State followed by a trip to No. 13 UCLA. I’m tempted to give the Cougars bonus points for Game Four – a trip to Michigan.

2. Louisville. You could easily make the argument that U of L plays the toughest three-game opening stretch, and I’m sure some of you will.

Auburn at a questionably neutral site, considering it is the home of the SEC Championship game. Followed by a trap-game visit from Houston, which finished 8-5 last season and then recruited Ohio State’s offensive coordinator Tom Herman as its new head coach. Clemson, ranked 12th, at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for a Thursday night ESPN game.

Demanding. Difficult. Delightful.

But my winner is …

1. SMU. Yes, I know the Mustangs play North Texas, which finished 4-8 last season in game two. Hey, we’re talking about SMU.

This is not the SMU of the Eric Dickerson and Craig James Eras. The Mustangs went 1-11 last season, which is why they recruited former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris to be their head coach.

I went with SMU because the Mustangs are the only team on the list to play two top five opponents in their first three games.

That would be Baylor Friday night at 7 at Gerald Ford Stadium in Dallas and a road trip to TCU on Sept. 19. SMU sits as a 35 ½ point underdog tonight.

Both the Bears, ranked fourth, and the Horned Frogs, ranked second, believe they can win the national championship this season.

SMU is unlikely to change those plans.

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