Neither Louisville nor Houston control their own destinies in terms of making a trip to a BCS bowl. They both need the American Athletic Conference leader to stumble, and neither can afford a loss in Saturday night's matchup.
The 19th-ranked Cardinals (8-1, 4-1) will be playing at home for the first time in 29 days, when they suffered their lone loss, a 38-35 defeat to conference-leading Central Florida on Oct. 18.
They've since bounced back with road victories over South Florida and Connecticut by a combined 65-13 margin, but are locked in a three-way tie for second place with Cincinnati and Houston (7-2, 4-1) behind the Knights.
Teddy Bridgewater will be looking to bounce back from what was a subpar performance by his standards in a 31-10 win over Connecticut last Friday. He was 21 of 37 for 288 yards and a TD, marking the 21st straight game in which he's thrown a pass for a score.
"I'm pretty tough on my performances and everything," said Bridgewater, whose 182.9 passer rating ranks fourth in the FBS. "I do kind of critique myself in a certain way. But, any day that you can get a win, that's what it's all about."
Bridgewater, whose 71.4 completion percentage is sixth-best in the country, was picked off for just the third time while posting his lowest completion percentage of the season, though he was plagued by numerous drops from his receivers.
"That's meaningful to me," said the junior, who is six passing TDs shy of the single-season school record of 30 set by Brian Brohm in 2007. "That's one thing, I strive to be one of the top passers in the nation in the decision-making category. I still have three or four games left, so those things can go back up."
The 369 yards of offense against the Huskies was the lowest total this year for Louisville, which ranks 18th in the nation in scoring at 38.4 points per game and 21st in total offense with an average of 481.2 yards.
The Cougars, who represent another one of the nation's top 20 scoring offenses with 38.1 points per contest, were held in check in a 19-14 road loss to Central Florida on Saturday. The 14 points were their fewest since a 41-7 loss to Tulsa on Nov. 10, 2012, and freshman quarterback John O'Korn recorded a season-low passer rating of 92.8 while being picked off twice.
Those were their only two turnovers, however, as Houston also forced three by the Knights.
"Normally, when you win the turnover margin you win the game," coach Tony Levine said.
Houston and Louisville have both been successful largely because of turnover margin, with the Cougars first in the country with a plus-21 margin while the Cardinals are at third at plus-14.
"The thing that Houston does is force turnovers and they strip balls," Louisville coach Charlie Strong told the team's official website. "You see people drive the ball on them and they get down in the red zone and they tighten down their coverage. They force them into throws and they end up coming away with some good interceptions. Then, around that tackle, there is always someone running up and trying to strip the ball. That is how they create the turnovers."
Though most of the attention on Louisville focuses on Bridgewater, the Cardinals are tied with Alabama for the best scoring defense in the country, limiting opponents to 10.6 points per game.
This marks the first matchup since Louisville's 65-27 victory at Houston in 2004, evening the all-time series at seven wins apiece.
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Given its schedule, Louisville was expected to run the table and easily take the American Athletic Conference. However, a midseason loss to UCF cut those hope short. Now, the Cardinals most likely will battle for second place in the conference, and if there is one team left in their schedule that can pose a problem, it is Houston. The Cougars rank 17th in the nation in passing yards per game, and are led by freshman QB John O'Korn, who has passed for 2,352 yards and 23 touchdowns this season.