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Louisville, Cincinnati going in different directions

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Three years ago, when Cincinnati and Louisville played, one team was in the Top 10 and had to win the game despite a hand injury to its Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback.

This week, the same two teams play with a very similar storyline. Except the roles have been reversed.

The Cardinals were the hot Big East program just three years ago as they won the league and the 2007 Orange Bowl. Cincinnati was still trying to get to the next level after coming over from Conference USA.

Now it's Cincinnati that's coming off an Orange Bowl appearance and flying even higher this season, while Louisville is struggling to get off the ground. As Eric Crawford of The Courier-Journal notes, it was only five years ago that Bobby Petrino and the Cardinals beat the Bearcats 70-7, making the Keg of Nails rivalry a one-sided joke.

"I don't know which is more breathtaking, UofL's fall or UC's rise.

I do know it is illustrative of one truth in college sports. You can build all the buildings you want. You can have all the money — UofL's athletic budget is $20million more than that of UC, which just trimmed scholarships for three varsity sports to deal with a $2.6million athletic budget deficit.

You can talk all you want about budgets and infrastructure and exposure, but when it comes to college football, money is nothing if you don't have the right man."

You'd be hard-pressed to find two Big East coaches at more opposite ends of the spectrum right now than Brian Kelly and Steve Kragthorpe. Kelly is working on his third straight league coach of the year trophy and is an incredible 28-6 since coming to Cincinnati. Programs will be lining up at year's end to try and pry him away.

Kragthorpe is just 13-17 in three years at Louisville, having failed to make a bowl game his first two seasons. The Cardinals have lost seven straight Big East games and eight in a row against BCS conference opponents. All Louisville fans want to talk about these days is who will succeed Kragthorpe at season's end.

Kelly is like Petrino with a better personality. His teams run up and down the field like Petrino's used to do, and he always seems to have a better game plan and more prepared players than his opponent.

Kragthorpe came to Louisville with the reputation as an offensive guru, and he took over sole responsibility of playcalling duties this year. But the formerly high-scoring Cardinals have reached 30 points only once all season, and that was a thoroughly unimpressive 30-10 win against FCS punching bag Indiana State. They are last in the Big East in scoring at 21.5 points per game.

"I need to be a better playcaller," Kragthorpe said Monday. "I think everybody has to critically look at themselves when not they're playing as well as you want to."

The offense did show signs of life last week in a 38-25 loss to Connecticut. The Cardinals piled up 457 total yards and had four drives of at least 74 yards. But they couldn't capitalize more because of four turnovers. Kragthorpe said that's probably as consistent as the offense has been all year, and it will help to get star running back Victor Anderson over the knee problems that have slowed him much of the season.

"For all those who have been doom and gloom, you can see this thing coming together offensively," Kelly said of Louisville. "I just hope it doesn't come together too good on Saturday."

Kelly shouldn't have to worry too much. The truth is, this week Cincinnati holds all the cards.