SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Charlie Strong wants his Louisville Cardinals to enter the Carrier Dome with a big chip on their shoulders when they play Syracuse.
"I want our players to feel like they are being disrespected," Strong said.
Shouldn't be a problem.
Despite being one of only six unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Louisville (9-0, 4-0 Big East) is ranked 11th in the AP Top 25 and ninth in the latest BCS standings. In the BCS, the Cardinals trail Georgia and Florida, who each have one loss, and LSU and South Carolina, with two losses apiece.
"What I would hate to see is all of a sudden we're No. 5 in the BCS," Strong said. "Then our guys are going to feel like, 'Hey, we have arrived. We're there.' No. Let's just keep working and then at the end see where we are."
The Cardinals have quietly made a strong statement behind quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and will present all sorts of problems for the Orange (4-5, 3-2).
"This is the best football team that we will have played so far," said Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, who watched his team lose 42-29 to Matt Barkley and then-No. 2 Southern California in the second week of the season. "Even with a tough out-of-conference schedule, I would say Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback that we will face so far this season. He's a playmaker."
Coming off a five-touchdown performance in a 45-17 win over Temple, Bridgewater has thrown for 2,434 yards and 18 TDs with only four interceptions, has a 70.4-percent completion rate, and is ranked fifth nationally in passing efficiency (169.98).
"He's a good quarterback on film," Syracuse nose tackle Jay Bromley said. "He delivers the ball on time. He extends plays with his feet. But we've faced some really good quarterbacks over the course of the season, so we're prepared for anything. We can turn this around."
Syracuse has to win two of its final three games to achieve the six wins needed to play in a bowl game, and the Orange will rely on quarterback Ryan Nassib to lead the way. He has thrown for a school-record 2,773 yards as the Orange has produced three 500-yard receivers in a season for the first time — Marcus Sales with 722, Alec Lemon 569, and Jarrod West 523.
"It's going to be a good test for us, a team that needs to become bowl-eligible," Strong said. "Now, they have to go win."
Syracuse has excelled against the run under defensive coordinator Scott Shafer. But in a 35-24 loss last week at Cincinnati, it faltered despite a solid effort by safety Shamarko Thomas, who had 14 tackles (10 solos) and forced a fumble.
Cincinnati's George Winn was named Big East offensive player of the week on Monday. He rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns — both career highs — and threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to key the win over Syracuse. That came a week after South Florida rushed for 369 yards — a high against a Shafer defense in his 45 games at Syracuse — in a one-point loss to the Orange.
Now come Louisville's Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright. Although Bridgewater is the guy who makes the Louisville offense purr, Perry has a league-high 11 touchdown runs, Wright has nine, and the two have combined to average 151 yards rushing per game.
Though the hopes of making the postseason for the second time in three years are in jeopardy with two road games remaining, Marrone isn't looking any farther ahead than Saturday.
"I always look at it from week to week," he said. "I've never really looked at it from the overall picture because you can't. I think it distracts you from the task at hand."
The Syracuse players certainly seem focused, especially because Saturday will be Senior Day for a core group of players that have been key to helping Marrone turn around a program that was a laughingstock not so long ago.
"It's special for me," Nassib said. "It's my last game in the dome. I've been in there for the last five years. I would say there's a little more extra emphasis on being a little bit more prepared, more ready to go. But at the same time I've got to make sure I don't try to do too much."