Published October 19, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The No. 16 Louisville Cardinals know that South Florida's mission on Saturday is to turn its season around with a big win.
The Cardinals know firsthand how a key victory can turn things around; they just don't want the Bulls doing it at their expense.
A senior-laden South Florida squad that was expected to challenge for the Big East championship has lost four straight since a 2-0 start — leaving the Bulls at a crossroads coming out of a bye week.
Meanwhile, Louisville (6-0, 1-0) returns home from a 35-day absence with its best start since 2006 and hungry to follow up last week's conference win at Pittsburgh.
Keeping the Cardinals focused on continuing their roll is their memory of being in the Bulls' position a year ago.
"They're fighting for their lives right now," Louisville left tackle Alex Kupper said.
The Cardinals remember what that feels like.
They started 2-4 last year before beating Rutgers 16-14 to end a three-game losing streak. The Cardinals went on to win five of their final six games and claim a share of the Big East title.
Louisville has won 11 of its last 12 regular season games. Its remaining schedule is against the Big East, starting next Friday with unbeaten and No. 21 Cincinnati.
But Cardinals coach Charlie Strong is stressing a one-game season approach to his players.
"Well, right now, you're sitting at 6-0 so you like the position you're in," he said. "But you still have six more games to go play. We just can't get full of ourselves. We still have games in front of us.
"We're not even thinking about Cincinnati. Our only focus right now — the only team we need to worry about right now — is South Florida. If our players take on that attitude then we'll be fine but we can't look down the road," he said.
For South Florida coach Skip Holtz, Saturday's game represents "a fresh start."
"It's kind of a restart button," he said about the second half of the Bulls' season. "We can't change the first six games, but we can learn from it, evaluate it (and) move on as a football team."
While many of USF's matchups have been close, its Big East results have been disastrous with losses in 10 of its last 11.
The Bulls' last visit to Louisville could provide inspiration for how to put together a winning effort.
"We went up there two years ago and found a way to win in OT (24-21)," Holtz said of his team's 2010 victory here. "We're looking for that kind of jump start."
It's the Bulls' most recent Big East win since beating Syracuse last November.
"I remember us fighting to the end," quarterback B.J. Daniels said.
Having a healthy Daniels would go a long way toward improving the Bulls' prospects. The extra rest from the bye week was especially important for the dual-threat senior, who has been slowed by a sprained ankle.
He rushed for just six yards in last week's loss to Temple and also missed last year's 34-24 loss to Louisville because of injury.
Turnovers, which doomed South Florida against Louisville last season, have been a key factor in its losing streak.
The Bulls' minus-10 turnover margin ranks in the bottom 10 nationally, and they're the only Football Bowl Subdivision school without an interception this season.
In Louisville sophomore Teddy Bridgewater, USF is facing a quarterback who has been intercepted just three times this season and ranks fifth nationally with a 72 percent completion rate.
"I guess we've been playing some pretty good quarterbacks, some pretty efficient quarterbacks and Bridgewater is another one," USF linebacker Sam Barrington said. "We've got to put ourselves in great position to take the ball away instead of having the ball given to us."
Kupper is one of 10 Louisville seniors who watched last year's 25-senior class right the Cardinals' ship midway through the season.
He knows South Florida's veterans — which include 25 seniors as well — want to use Saturday as a springboard for a similar feat.
"They have a lot of talent and they know that all it takes is one game to turn the season around," Kupper said.
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.