LOUISVILLE, Ky. – While Louisville is getting ready for its conference opener, the Cardinals' biggest obstacle in winning a national championship could be their schedule.
That was reinforced in this week's Top 25 rankings. The idle Cardinals (4-0) remained seventh after their bye, but Georgia leapfrogged them to No. 6 following its Southeastern Conference victory over LSU. Louisville's opponents are a combined 20-28, which isn't likely to help the Cardinals when the first BCS standings are released in October.
Still, the Cardinals say they are focused on beating who's on their schedule and not the strength of it. An undefeated season would land them another BCS bowl berth.
Louisville returned to practice Monday to prepare for Saturday's American Athletic Conference opener at Temple (0-4, 0-1), with hopes of winning the first AAC crown.
"People look at where we are and look at the team we have and they say 'OK, you guys have a good football team, but you're not playing anybody," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said Monday. "I tell our team all the time, it's all about how we play and we can't worry about what anyone else says."
Louisville entered the season prepared for life in a reorganized league without Syracuse and Pittsburgh, who left what was known as the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference with the Cardinals due to follow next year. The league's Catholic, non-football schools then formed a new league with the Big East name, while the six remaining schools added Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU to form the AAC, which retains the automatic BCS bid.
At first glance, Louisville's road to a third straight conference title appears tougher than expected. While Temple, South Florida and Connecticut are all 0-4, Houston is undefeated at 4-0 and UCF, Cincinnati and Rutgers are all 3-1.
The Cardinals host Rutgers and UCF in consecutive prime-time home games after Temple.
While the Cardinals aim to run the table in their only AAC season, they're also rooting for non-league foes to improve to show that the schedule is stronger than it looks right now.
"I like to go back and see if the teams we played are doing good," said senior nose tackle Brandon Dunn, who even hopes that in-state rival and SEC member Kentucky (1-3) gets better.
"It looks good on us if they're winning and having a good season. We understand that the teams we play might not be up in the rankings, but they're still winning games. ... If Kentucky wins, that makes us look good."
For the moment Louisville's task is handling its business, beginning with a Temple team that has struggled under first-year coach Matt Rhule.
The Owls are coming off Saturday's 26-24 loss at Idaho, which followed a 30-29 upset by FCS Fordham. They've split six games with the Cardinals but have lost the last three in the series including 45-17 last season.
Louisville's recent dominance of Temple means nothing to players mindful of the any-given-day adage. The Cardinals were reminded of that warning during a bye week that provided rest and allowed them to address areas of concern that have thwarted the perfect game they seek.
While finding fault in their performance after they pasted Florida International 72-0 might seem harsh, it illustrates the Cardinals' determination to prove — again — that their record isn't the result of a soft schedule.
"We kind of got it in our minds that we're not the best team," junior left tackle Jamon Brown said. "We've got to keep working. There are things we've got to continue to get better at. We're going to play a good football team and we have to make sure we're on top of our game."