Louisville and Houston have to resolve some issues between them before either can think about catching Central Florida and salvaging hopes for a conference championship and a BCS bid.
"It is out of our control with what UCF does," Louisville center Jake Smith said this week of the team's AAC prospects. "Obviously, you want things to fall in our favor but we can't concern ourselves with that. We are just going to go out and keep playing and try to take control of our own destiny by winning out and playing our best ball."
That scenario makes Saturday night's American Athletic Conference showdown more intriguing since the No. 19 Cardinals (8-1, 4-1) and the Cougars (7-2, 4-1) have similar strengths.
The game pits two of the AAC's top quarterbacks in Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater and Houston freshman John O'Korn, who rank first and fourth respectively in passing efficiency. Both schools feature stingy defenses that rank 1-2 in turnover margin with the Cougars proving adept at intercepting passes.
Both have also suffered close losses to UCF and will meet for the first time since Louisville won 65-27 in 2004.
In many areas, the Cardinals have bounced back well since falling to UCF last month. They've beaten South Florida and Connecticut by a combined 65-13 margin and forced five turnovers last week at UConn including touchdown returns off a blocked punt and an interception.
Houston's late rally fell 10 yards short in last Saturday's 19-14 loss at UCF, but the Cougars still have one of the league's best offenses. Louisville and Houston are both averaging a league-best 38 points a game and are 2-3 in total average yards with the Cardinals holding a 481.2-470.2 advantage.
Though the numbers hint at a shootout, Louisville's defense is allowing just 10.6 points per game while Houston has forced a league-high 32 turnovers.
"They're a good team. We'll definitely be ready," Houston offensive lineman Kevin Forsch said. "We'll come out and give it everything we have. ... We're excited for the challenge and to be able to go up there and play."
Here are five things to watch when Houston visits No. 19 Louisville on Saturday night:
STEADY TEDDY: Though the Heisman Trophy buzz has subsided with junior QB Teddy Bridgewater, he continues to post consistent numbers. He extended his streak of games with at least one touchdown to 21 by connecting with DeVante Parker and his 24 TDs are tied with Dave Ragone for seventh-most in a season. He needs seven TDs to break Brian Brohm's record set in 2007.
HOUSTON QB JOHN O'KORN: Recruited by Louisville, the freshman presents a big threat for the Cardinals because he can move his team quickly downfield. Last week against UCF he needed 58 seconds to move Houston 37 yards toward their first TD and swiftly guided the Cougars within 10 yards of beating the Knights in the final minute before the drive ended on back-to-back incompletions. O'Korn has passed for 2,352 yards, 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions this season and ranks third among FBS freshman QBs with a 261 yards-per-game average.
CHARLES GAINES: Wide receiver-turned-cornerback Charles Gaines has been a big-play defender and special teamer for the Cardinals. Last week at UConn, he blocked a punt and returned it seven yards for a touchdown, his third TD this season. He also has a 70-yard interception and a 93-yard kickoff return for touchdowns.
OPPORTUNISTIC COUGARS: Houston's plus-21 turnover margin leads the nation, helped by 14 interceptions that also rank No. 1. Nine players have picked off passes and recovered fumbles for the Cougars. Free safety Trevon Stewart enters with a team-high four interceptions and a nation-leading four fumble recoveries.
HOME COOKING: Louisville's last home game on Oct. 18 resulted in its lone loss, a 38-35 heartbreaker to Central Florida that created the Cardinals' uphill battle toward contending for the AAC crown. The good news is that home has been very good for the Cardinals: they are outscoring opponents by an average of 45-12 per game this season and aim to use that strength against the Cougars in hopes of salvaging their league prospects.