The Louisville Cardinals and Cincinnati Bearcats will get together in what could be the final battle for the Keg of Nails for quite some time. It remains unclear when these two programs will meet again with Louisville heading to the ACC and no matchups scheduled for any time in the foreseeable future. Following a devastating 38-35 loss to UCF, Louisville has reeled off four consecutive wins to put themselves in a position to clinch the conference with a win and a UCF loss. Meanwhile, the Bearcats have been nearly as impressive with six straight wins. Each team can earn a share of the American Athletic Conference title with a win and a UCF loss Saturday at SMU. However, only Cincinnati has a chance at the league's automatic BCS berth. Both teams boast offenses that average over 30 points per game and defenses that rank in the top 10 in the country in points allowed. Despite Louisville's recent run of success, the Bearcats have won four of the last five games against the Cardinals. Louisville ended a four-game slump in the series with a 34-31 home win last year on a 30-yard field goal from John Wallace as time expired. Cincinnati owns a 30-21 all-time edge with one tie in a series that first awarded the Keg of Nails trophy to its winner in 1929. The Bearcats will enter Saturday's game as home underdogs for the first time this season.
Three Things to Watch
Battle of the QBs
Teddy Bridgewater remains one of the favorites to be the top selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. He has completed 71 percent of his passes this year for 3,268 yards with 25 touchdowns and three interceptions. Bridgewater is simply putting on a passing clinic this season. He has hung tough to deliver passes in the face of pass rush, showed mobility on rollouts, demonstrated good arm strength and been extremely accurate. It is worth noting that he hasn't looked especially sharp in his past three starts. After throwing for 300+ yards in his first four conference games, Bridgewater has yet to crack that mark in the last three games, as he's averaging just 237 passing yards per game. On the other hand, Brendon Kay is one of the hottest quarterbacks in all of college football right now. Kay is coming off back-to-back offensive outbursts, racking up 811 total passing yards against Rutgers and Houston. In addition for throwing for over 400 yards in both games, Kay accounted for seven total touchdowns in the two wins. Bridgewater is the better quarterback and a top-level pro prospect; however, if Kay can keep up his recent play then the Bearcats may have the edge.
The Cardinals really don't have anything to play for. Because of their loss to UCF, they have no chance of playing for a BCS bid. They could still clinch a share of the American Athletic title; however, they are almost assuredly headed to a lesser bowl game. Currently, it looks like the 10-1 Cardinals are slated for pre-New Year's Russell Athletic Bowl. Charlie Strong is a great motivator, but even he may be in over his head trying to spark a team that had thoughts of another Sugar Bowl appearance in their heads this preseason.
When thinking of Louisville and Cincinnati, strong offenses come to mind with defense more of an afterthought. Despite this, these two programs have two of the best defenses in the country. Louisville ranks second among FBS teams in total defense, limiting teams to 242.5 yards per game, while Cincinnati is eighth, allowing 302.4. The Cardinals rank sixth in red zone defense, while the Bearcats are the No. 10 red zone team in the nation. Even more impressive are their third-down defenses, with Louisville as the best in the country and Cincinnati checking in tied for eighth. The Cardinals are stingy as they allow conversions 26 percent of the time. The Bearcats aren't much worse as they are allowing conversions on just 32 percent of third downs. You can chalk their statistics up to playing in a weak conference; however, these defenses will be put to the test against two of the conference's most prolific offenses this Thursday.
Key Player: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
This guy is a game-breaker supreme. Cincinnati will need to use a variety of coverages to shut down the 6'3" junior. While Parker isn't known for producing a large amount of yardage, his big frame makes him a nightmare in the red zone. Parker leads all Cardinals' receiver with 19 touchdown receptions over the past two seasons.
Cincinnati is the hot team right now. Not to mention, they have won 16 of their last 18 home games while outscoring teams by an average of 23.4 points. Oh, and their playing for a chance at a BCS bowl. I don't expect Louisville to really be 100 percent invested in this game and it should show. Kay will continue his excellent play and the Bearcats will once again take home The Keg of Nails.
Prediction: Cincinnati 32, Louisville 24