I continue my team-by-team look at each schedule in the Big East.
Up today: Louisville.
Nonconference schedule: The Cardinals get the season started Sept. 1 with in-state rival Kentucky, so there will be little room for error and no time to just get warmed up. Though this is a huge nonconference test, Louisville will go into this game as the favorite, as the Cardinals are a program on the rise and won this game a year ago. While a look at the slate might not make it seem all that formidable, there are some tricky games -- at Florida International (which beat Louisville in 2011) and at Southern Miss. While those two teams took some major personnel losses, neither are expected to be bad. And what to expect of North Carolina under new coach Larry Fedora? Louisville will most likely be favored to win all these games, which means expectations already are high for a 5-0 start.
Conference schedule: Louisville has had its share of problems against Pitt, so it probably did not thrill Cardinals fans to see the Big East opener on the road in Pittsburgh on Oct. 13. The Panthers have won four straight in the series, including a victory last season that essentially knocked Louisville from the automatic berth into the BCS. The Cardinals do get rival Cincinnati at home, but they end the season at Rutgers in what many anticipate will have an impact on the final league standings.
Good news: Louisville does get a bye week after it finishes nonconference play, so that gives the Cardinals some extra time to prepare for Pitt. Louisville also gets three consecutive conference home games after that road opener against the Panthers, which gives the Cardinals an opportunity for a strong start in league play. And its two biggest league games are on prime-time, national television -- Cincinnati and Rutgers. In all, Louisville has seven games at home.
Bad news: The Cardinals only get five days' rest between their game against UConn and the season finale at Rutgers on Thursday, Nov. 29, which is obviously less than ideal. But it should make Louisville fans feel better that Rutgers also has a short week to prepare. Louisville also has to play two nonconference games on the road against teams from non-AQ conferences -- again, less than ideal.
Best case: Though the nonconference schedule is challenging, Louisville should be the favorite to roll to a 5-0 start. That gives this young team added confidence headed into league play, and the Cardinals nearly run the table to finish 11-1.
Worst case: The nonconference schedule trips Louisville up the way it did a year ago, and so do a few games in Big East play, sending the Cardinals to an 8-4 season.