Louisville tried to schedule Aggies

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Johnny Football versus Teddy Ballgame to open the 2013 season? It nearly happened.

Texas A&M and Louisville were in discussions to square off in the season opener at Houston's Reliant Stadium, a showdown that would have featured reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Cardinals star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Louisville coach Charlie Strong and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin were in favor of playing the game, Strong told ESPN. Ultimately, however, the game could not be worked out.

Because of a soft non-conference schedule that includes Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, FIU and Kentucky, Louisville has tried to bolster its schedule in the offseason.

The Cardinals were in discussions about playing neutral-site games with Texas A&M and Alabama and also a home-and-home series with Wisconsin, but nothing could get finalized.

Bridgewater said he would have loved an opportunity to play against Manziel.

"It would have been a great experience to play against last year's Heisman Trophy winner and arguably the best player in college football," Bridgewater said. "He lays it on the line like I do. It would have been a great matchup."

The Cardinals also had an outside shot to open the season against reigning champion Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.

Alabama will play Virginia Tech, but the Hokies considered withdrawing from the game if quarterback Logan Thomas left early for the NFL draft. Louisville would have replaced Virginia Tech, but Thomas returned for his senior season.

The Cardinals are expected to be favored in every game this season and will face one of the softest overall schedules this year.

Bridgewater said Strong already has told the Cardinals not to take anything for granted this fall.

"This is the same team that lost to Syracuse and UConn [last year]," Bridgewater said. "Coach told us nothing has been handed to us. The guys have to have a humble mindset."

The Cardinals return eight offensive starters and 10 defensive starters off last year's Big East and Allstate Sugar Bowl championship team. They are expected to be in the preseason top 10 national rankings.

"That's just a projection and not where you end up," Bridgewater said. "Coach told us he didn't want us to be like last year's USC team (which started the year No. 1 and ended the season unranked). They just fell apart."

Also because of the move to the ACC and the strength of schedule component in the new playoff format, the Cardinals are expected not to play FCS opponents once their current scheduling commitments with FCS teams end in 2015.