Louisville embraces beefed up schedule

Louisville defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin has the University of Miami orange and green "U" logo on the wall of his room with a big X through it.

Mauldin put it up to give him extra motivation for the Russell Athletic Bowl matchup against the Hurricanes last season, a game the Cardinals won going away, 36-9.

Because the teams play each other again -- this time to open the season on Labor Day night -- Mauldin decided to keep the "U" up. Because now, many more eyes will be tuning in to see what Louisville has now that it is an ACC member.

What Louisville has is a vastly upgraded schedule, one that its players embrace -- and one that critics should embrace, too. You need a tougher schedule in the College Football Playoff era, and the Cardinals are no doubt playing one.

Despite 23 wins over the last two seasons -- including a victory over Florida in the 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl -- the Cards have not been given full credit because their strength of schedule was weak. They did themselves no favors with their poor nonconference slate, but unfortunately for them, they were at the mercy of the opposition in the Big East/American Athletic Conference. Playing outside the power structure rarely wins over the national crowd.

So while the schedule will be tougher this year, Louisville players believe it gives them an opportunity to prove they are legit, especially since they are playing a marquee opponent to open the season. Going back to 2005, its first year as a Big East member, Louisville has opened the season against either in-state rival Kentucky or the likes of Ohio, Murray State or Indiana State.

While Louisville-Kentucky is a great rivalry, it is a regional rivalry in football. None of those openers moves the needle like Louisville-Miami.

Mauldin said of opening against the Hurricanes: "Finally, we get some type of recognition around here. I am pretty much ready to play them again, show them what we can do again."

The won-loss record of its opposition tells the full story. Louisville's opponents on its 2014 regular-season schedule went a combined 69-70 last year. If you take out common nonconference opponents FIU and Kentucky on both the 2013 and 2014 schedules, Louisville's opponents were a combined 66-49 last year (.574). Doing the same for its 2013 slate, opponents were a combined 53-61 (.465).

"To win as many games as they’ve won here the last two years is a great accomplishment, no matter what conference you’re in," coach Bobby Petrino said. "I don’t mind them having a chip on their shoulder about it. That’s not so bad. And that will help motivate them. We have a great opener against Miami. Played them in the bowl game, so that’s a little tougher, but it will be fun."