TONIGHT - Louisville at Cincinnati
Posted Dec 5, 2013

Week 14 - Louisville at Cincinnati Preview & Prediction

Louisville (10-1) at Cincinnati (9-2) Dec. 5, 7:30, ESPN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Louisville and Cincinnati get a national spotlight to stage this year's Keg of Nails, which still might have an impact on the American title.

The Cardinals is ranked No. 19 nationally, but they've been eliminated from BCS bowl contention by virtue of their Oct. 18 loss to front-running UCF. Louisville can still have a 12-win season, but a soft overall schedule in 2013 will cap their postseason potential at the Russell Athletic Bowl versus an ACC opponent. The Bearcats, on the other hand, will not play the Knights this year, eliminating a head-to-head evaluation. Cincy is a game behind UCF, but it can earn a share of the league crown with a win on Thursday coupled with a Knight loss to SMU on Saturday. In that scenario, the BCS bowl bid would go to the program with the higher BCS ranking.

Why Louisville Might Win: Statistically, the Cards and the Cats are very similar. However, the Cats don't have Teddy Bridgewater behind center or a defense with as much talent as Louisville. Brendon Kay has had a solid year for Cincinnati, but Bridgewater is one of the elite hurlers in America and a future first-round NFL Draft whenever he decides to come out. On D, the Cards are No. 3 nationally behind Florida State and Alabama, yielding just 11.4 points per game. They're also No. 3 in sacks, wreaking havoc off the edge with the tandem of Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin.

Why Cincinnati Might Win: The Bearcats do a lot of things well on both sides of the ball. They also have something that's escaped Louisville this season—true offensive balance. Cincinnati not only has the efficient passing of Kay, but it also boasts the league's best ground game, a unit churning out 172 yards per game. The staff has depth in the backfield, liberally employing Hosey Williams, Ralph David Abernathy and Tion Green. The Cat defense has been the next best thing to the Cards in the league, ranking No. 2 on the strength of assertive linebackers Greg Blair and Nick Temple.

Who To Watch Out For: Smith and Mauldin are nasty, but OT Eric Lefeld and OG Austen Bujnoch give Cincinnati the league's best left side. This shapes up as one of many intriguing games-within-the game.

- The Bearcats' version of Smith and Mauldin are DE Silver Mouhon and DT Jordan Stepp, who've combined for 14.5 sacks. Louisville, aided by the pocket presence of Bridgewater, though, does a nice job of protecting the quarterback.

- Cincinnati has shown a few more pockets of vulnerability in pass defense than Louisville has this season. Bridgewater wants to exploit them, with help from a terrific corps of receivers led by DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers and TE Gerald Christian.

- The Bearcats, on the other hand, will have a harder time stretching the field. Their receivers are marginal, while the Louisville secondary is flush with talent, such as safeties Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith and underrated corners Charles Gaines and Terell Floyd.

What Will Happen: UCF-Louisville was the game of the year in the American. This one on Thursday night could wind up being a worthy next best thing. There's not a lot that separates the Cards and the Bearcats, especially since the latter will be playing at home. However, Bridgewater and the Louisville D are just a cut above their host, the difference in a back-and-forth game that won't be decided until late in the final quarter.

Prediction: Louisville 28 … Cincinnati 24
Line: Louisville -3.5 o/u: 51
Must See Rating: (5 American Hustle – 1 The Sound of Music Live!) … 3.5
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