Despite a subpar performance against Toledo last week, Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux still believes he is better than the top quarterback in the Big East, No. 16 Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.
"I'm better," Legaux said when asked about his Louisville counterpart.
Legaux will have an opportunity to back up his bold statement Friday night when the Bearcats and Cardinals battle for a Keg of Nails and a shot at first place in the Big East. Louisville is 7-0, 2-0 in the conference. Cincinnati 5-1, 1-0 in the Big East. Both trail Rutgers, which is 7-0, 4-0 in conference play.
Bridgewater, a sophomore, is on pace to surpass his freshman totals, having thrown for 1,694 yards and 11 touchdowns. His completion percentage has improved from 64.5 percent a year ago to 73.4 percent, and his interceptions have been cut from 12 last season to only three in seven games this season. It is only fair to point out that Bridgewater has faced just one defense ranked higher than 57th against the pass (Pittsburgh, 27th), but he did pass for 304 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers.
“Offensively when you think of Louisville, you think of Teddy Bridgewater. He can manage their offense," Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones said while assessing Louisville's offense this week. "Extremely accurate, knows where he’s going with the football. Not only can he beat you throwing the football but he can beat you running the football.
“The one thing that really separated Teddy is his poise as a true freshman," Jones added. "I think this year you see an even [higher] maturity level. It’s his show. We always talk about the quarterback as the alpha male. He’s the individual in charge and you see that."
Legaux, on the other hand, has completed just 53.3 percent of his passes for 1,435 yards and 12 touchdowns and he has been picked off five times, including twice in a loss to Toledo last week. So far, Legaux has put together those numbers against two pass defenses ranked 32nd or higher (Pitt, Virginia Tech), two pass defenses ranked 93rd or lower (Miami Ohio, 93rd; Toledo, 118th) and a pair of FCS schools (Delaware State and Fordham).
The Cincinnati quarterback may have a sense of confidence heading into this weekend's game, but he will certainly be tested in trying to back it up. The Louisville locker room has already printed up his statement and taped it to a wall, along with a few other reminders of just how long it has been since the Cardinals had defeated Cincinnati.
"We haven't beaten them in four years," Louisville junior defensive tackle Brandon Dunn this week. "We have to come ready to play. We have a short week and we have to keep grinding through it. We have to give everything we have on Friday night. Then, we can relax on Saturday. It's all about Cincinnati from here on out."
Cincinnati's loss last weekend to Toledo took some of the shine off Friday night's matchup between longtime rivals. But with the Keg of Nails and a top spot in the Big East standings still on the line, both teams still have a lot on the line.
With Cincinnati losing last weekend and falling out of the top 25, it means Louisville will not host a top-25 opponent this season, and their lone game against a top-25 team may not come until the last game of the regular season, a Thursday night game at Rutgers.
If Rutgers should happen to lose a game before then, it is possible the Cardinals will not face a top-25 team all season, which puts a potentially undefeated Cardinals team in a tough spot in the BCS standings.
As Cincinnati illustrated just a few seasons ago, running the table and winning a Big East championship is no guarantee of playing for a BCS title. If it comes down to comparing an undefeated Louisville team against an undefeated Oregon, Kansas State or Notre Dame, it will be difficult to make a case for Louisville.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they have a head coach in Charlie Strong who will ensure his team remains focused on the smaller picture with a game-by-game approach. In order for that BCS discussion to even be possible, Louisville must win all its regular-season games. Otherwise, there is no BCS discussion.
Cincinnati has already essentially fallen out of the BCS picture altogether, at least in the big picture. A chance to claim the Big East's automatic bid still remains a possibility with an offense that may have a slight advantage against Louisville and a favorable schedule the rest of the way, including Rutgers at home on November 17.
"I said that this would be a team that our margin our error would be very, very small," Jones said earlier this week. "Are we a good football team? Yes. Are we a great football team? No.
"The formula for winning never changes. I think there’s a lot of positive. We’re sitting here 5-1. You work to this point to play meaningful games in the end of October all the way to November. What 5-1 does is it ensures us that here on out we’re playing meaningful games in November."
While the quarterback comparison will surely draw attention Friday night, you can't forget about some of the other key players in this matchup. Cincinnati's George Winn is second in the Big East in rushing with 607 yards, and Louisville's Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright are 1-2 in the conference in rushing touchdowns with 17 combined scores.
On defense, Louisville will hope to see sophomore defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin continue to bring pressure on Legaux. Mauldin is tied for third in the Big East in sacks with 4.5. Cincinnati has allowed the fewest sacks among Big East teams, tying Rutgers with just four allowed.
Cincinnati has won the previous four meetings against Louisville, which had won nine of the previous 10 meetings.
Quotes obtained through Cincinnati athletics and Louisville athletics.
Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.