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November 6, 2012As the season heads into the final three weeks, the University of Louisville football team is beginning to play the 'no respect' card, which is somewhat difficult to understand given the Cardinals' high standings in the three major polls.
But the Cards' attitude is fine with coach Charlie Strong, who says he thinks they're more effective playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Going into Saturday's noon game against Syracuse (4-5, 3-2) in the Carrier Dome, UofL is 9-0 for the first time in school history and tied with Rutgers for the lead in the Big East Conference at 4-0. The Cards are No. 9 in the BCS standings, No. 11 in the AP poll and No. 10 in the USA Today coaches' poll.
Shouldn't be much room for argument there, especially since Louisville's resume' shows no victories over a top-25 team and narrow escapes against FIU, Southern Miss and South Florida, a trio of teams with a combined 5-23 record.
Still, after the 45-17 win over Temple last Saturday, several UofL players said they were miffed at remarks made by ESPN commentators intimating they are overranked due to their weak schedule while ignoring them in conversations about national championship contenders.
"In the pre-game (Saturday), we watched a video about the naysayers and the people who stated reasons we shouldn't be in the top-10," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "It's just something. . .adding fuel to the fire. It just gives us an extra chip."
Cornerback Adrian Bushell referred to the video as "a lot of sports reporters just throwing us under the bus basically. Kind of disrespectful, but kind of motivating at the same time."
Bushell's response to skeptics who say UofL couldn't compete with the other undefeated teams:
"I say, line them up. We do everything (it takes) to be number one, all we need is a shot."
That's not going to happen unless UofL plays a top-10 opponent in a BCS bowl. The best shot the Cards have to make a semi-statement before then is their season-ending trip to Rutgers (7-1), which has climbed back into the polls at No. 24/20 after falling out for a week following a loss to Kent State. And it's doubtful a win over the Scarlet Knights would do much to silence the critics.
Strong insists he doesn't pay any attention to the BCS standings or the polls, but wants his players to feel like underdogs in their quest for credibility.
"The program in three years the way it's come, I think you still need to play with a chip on your shoulder," Strong said. "What I would hate to see is all of a sudden we're No. 5 in the BCS, then our guys are going to feel, 'Hey, we've arrived. We're there.' No, let's keep working and in the end see where we are. We still have a lot to prove, so let's go prove how good we are and how well we can play. I just want our players to continue to play with a chip on their shoulder and feel they're being disrespected."
Strong also said he's willing to take on all comers, a safe challenge since he admitted that Louisville's 2013 schedule doesn't contain any big-name teams either. Its non-conference slate consists of Kentucky, FIU, Eastern Kentucky and Ohio (University, not State).
"I look across the country and I say, 'Hey, if someone would like to play us, I'm more than happy to play them,'" he said. "And I would. I would take this football team -- not that I'm being arrogant or cocky -- but I would love to see our team play some of those teams and then we'll see exactly who we are and what we're all about."
Strong was asked about his unbeaten club being ranked behind a pair of two-loss SEC teams -- LSU and South Carolina, both 7-2 -- in the BCS standings. The Tigers are No. 7, the Gamecocks No. 8. But their strength of schedules are far superior to UofL's. In the computer rankings used by the BCS, LSU's SOS ranges from 5 to 19, South Carolina's from 7-22. UofL's best SOS ranking is 91st, its worst 126. When they meet No. 21 Mississippi State Saturday, the Tigers will have played half their games against top-25 competition, including three in the top 10. The Gamecocks have also played three top-10 teams and will close against No. 13 Clemson.
"The way I look at it is we don't control that, we have nothing to do with it," Strong said of the BCS standings. "The only thing our team can do the rest of the year is continue to play well and just go play it out and at the end of this season see where we end up. We can't worry about that; our focus right now has to be Syracuse. It's important to just continue to play good each week, then at the end if we're fortunate enough to get in one of those bowl games against a good SEC or ACC opponent or whomever, then we'll be able to show who we are."