“No doubt [we’re the number one team in the Country],” Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater proclaimed. “We just feel like we’re the best.”

Best teams in the Country don’t take halves off against winless Temple, like the Cardinals did.

Best teams in the Country thoroughly handle a one-loss Ohio team from start-to-finish, like the Cardinals did.

Luckily for the Cardinals, that ‘half off game’ had a sparse amount of viewers. Thursday night, it will be watched by ALL…at least those that matter.

Thursday is what the Cardinals have wanted.

Thursday is what all big-time programs want.

A colossal stage.

A moment in the spotlight.

For Louisville, Thursday is everything and the Cards desperately need it.

“This game is going to be center stage,” Senior Safety Hakeem Smith explained. “Thursday night, probably going to be the only one on that night. We’re going to be able to show the Nation how our team goes.”

LB Preston Brown had no quarrels about that statement, adding, ‘Everybody will be watching. It should be fun to show what we can do…. to the World.’

The critics of the Louisville Football team have grown from a soft whisper to a widespread discussion over the past couple of the weeks. Louisville lost some of the believers that they’ve had due to poor finishes against Temple and – as silly as the logic may be – a bye week in which they didn’t play.

The story that’s written about Louisville right now hasn’t been itched in stone. But for now, even if it’s an unfair, the immediate reaction to Louisville: ‘They’re overrated. They’re a product of their poor schedule.’

Fortunately for the Cards this story is only written in pencil. They have – perhaps a solitary chance- to change that narrative on Thursday.

“I want them to say that we play hard, we’re a physical team,” Preston Brown explained. “[I want them to say] that we’re a force to be reckoned with.”

For Louisville to do that, it must start with slowing down Rutgers QB Gary Nova.

This isn’t your Grandfather’s Gary Nova. The one who suffered from ‘Tony Romo syndrome’, constantly building us up, only to choke in the in. This is the new & improved Gary Nova. The RS Junior Gary Nova.

“He’s a year older,” Louisville Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford explained. “He’s been in the system. He knows where to go with the football He has veterans all around him. He feels very comfortable in what they’re doing right now and it shows.”

The Gary Nova of old threw for 16 interceptions last year. At this point last year, the Old Gary Nova had thrown 8. The New Gary Nova has only thrown 4 at this point, 2 of which weren’t exactly is fault. He’s also been reliable when it counts, Nova has the second highest TD/INT ratio in the Country at 9-1 only behind Oregon State’s Sean Mannion at 13-0.

It’s a direct result of the maturation of Nova, but the play-calling can’t be discounted. Rutgers seems to be putting him in more successful situations. More spread looks, with lots of viable options leaving Nova to simply just make plays.

Louisville must rely on pressure to frustrate Nova, resulting in not giving him time to make those plays.

“He’s making a lot of big passes,” Safety Hakeem Smith noted. “In the past, he hasn’t been making a lot of good decisions. But, he’s definitely come a long way.”

It’s fitting that the game that means so much to the Cardinals happens to be the opponent of  Scarlet Knights. The duo have shown us some of the best match-ups of the past few years, each team has had their turn in trading wins/losses and it’s quietly grown to a big-time rivalry. Last season the Cardinals made perhaps the biggest imprint on the rivalry, when they stole a BCS game bid from the Scarlet Knights grasps.

“Rivaries can’t really be forced,” Rutgers Head Coach Kyle Flood said. “They happen because you play the same team over a certain amount of time and you are competitive and there are wins on both sides. You’ll see a hard-nosed battle Thursday night.”

Although Rutgers is not the eye-opening Top 25 victory, the Cardinals have so desperately sought, it’s good enough. Rutgers is currently ranked 28th according to the AP voters. Rutgers projects 26th in the overall RPI and lay claim to a win over the SEC’s  Arkansas. A big win by Louisville will unquestionably make others take a second look at the Cardinals.

Thursday is everything for Louisville.

For Teddy Bridgewater, it’s his chance to reclaim the Heisman race.

For the Louisville Team, it’s their chance to begin to stake a claim to a BCS National Championship bid.

It has all the right ingredients for Louisville to make a statement to the Country.

Louisville can talk about being the best team in the Country to anyone that will listen. But on Thursday night, they can go out and prove it.

The Time is Now.

2013 Louisville Football: “The Time Is Now” from @CrumsRevenge on Vimeo.

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Chris Hatfield

Residing in Louisville, KY (via Bardstown, KY). I write things about Louisville Sports. Sometimes you'll like them. Follow me @_ChrisHatfield Email me at chatfield60@gmail.com

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