When Louisville and Pitt played last season, nearly everybody expected the Cardinals to win.
They came into the game on a three-game winning streak, off a huge victory against West Virginia. Pitt, meanwhile, entered with losses in three of its previous four games and looked particularly shaky on offense. But as is the case in Big East play, you never quite know what is going to happen until teams line up and play.
The Panthers dominated the line of scrimmage and pulled the upset. The loss essentially cost Louisville a BCS berth.
Now here we are again, with a somewhat similar scenario. No. 18 Louisville (5-0) is favored to win and looks like the better team. Pitt (2-3) is the most baffling team in the Big East. If you include last season, Pitt has won four straight over Louisville. You see why there are some who are calling for the Panthers to pull the upset Saturday.
"Traditionally, we're not very good against them, and that's one thing we have to be wary of," guard Jake Smith told reporters in Louisville. "They do have a good football team, they're a good defensive team, and they're a very smash-mouthed offense. We're definitely aware of how we played last year, and we came out a little flat. I think it was pretty obvious to everybody."
Coach Charlie Strong made headlines following that loss, when he mentioned the release of a new video game might have played a role in his team's lack of focus. Center Mario Benavides said in a telephone interview this week that he did not think that video game had much to do with the way his team played. The poor performance might have just been a lack of maturity.
"I know I wasn't thinking about my kill streak or anything like that during the game," Benavides said. "For him, it was more frustration because we didn’t play up to the level we were supposed to. I just think it was a combination of things. I'm not sure some of the younger guys knew how to handle beating a team like West Virginia."
Since that loss to Pittsburgh, Louisville has won seven straight regular-season games. This is a more mature team, no question. But the Cardinals have not put a complete game together in several weeks. They struggled in the rain against winless Southern Miss. They struggled to put FIU away. They collapsed in the second half against North Carolina and nearly lost.
Some of those inconsistent performances have people questioning Louisville. All of a sudden, a team that had a losing record in 2009 is being criticized for not looking perfect enough en route to a 5-0 start.
"I’d much rather be in a position where we're criticized because we’re not winning by enough rather than being in a position where we’re 2-3 right now or 2-4 like last year," Benavides said. "But having said that, I think that a lot of that criticism is warranted, because a lot of people expect a lot out of us this year. To me, it's a complement because people are expecting us to win by more, and to be honest, we expect to win by more, too, and so do our coaches. It doesn’t bother me as much as it motivates me.
"Being one of the older guys, I’ve been through a lot of the bad times. I’m living in the moment and taking one week at a time, and right now our main concern is Pitt, because we haven’t beaten them in such a long time and they are a tough team."
Plus, this the start of Big East play, and the Cardinals have their eyes firmly set on winning the league and getting to a BCS game for the first time since 2006. To help their cause, Louisville simply must avoid another upset at the hands of Pitt.