Analyzing the opponents: Louisville and Syracuse

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With Camp Higher Ground only three weeks away and the opener against Pitt approaching on the horizon, the time is now to take a closer look at the teams that will be gracing the 2012 UC football schedule. 

We'll analyze their returning players and the narrative following the teams as they approach the year. Also, I'll rank the opponents from 1-11 and delve into the storylines for each week. Today, we look at one of the most critical road games as Louisville and Syracuse are on the docket.

Louisville Cardinals
Location: Papa Johns Stadium
Date: Friday, October 26
Time: 8 p.m.
Offensive Starters: 7/11
Defensive Starters: 7/11
Specialists: 0/2
Last year: Louisville (7-6, 5-2) opened the year in trainwreck fashion before letting go of their offensive coordinator and promoting freshmen Teddy Bridgewater to starting quarterback. Those two moves changed the course of the year. Following a 27-16 loss to UC at Paul Brown Stadium in the Isaiah Pead pink-sock ankle-breaker game the Cards won five of their final six games en route to a share of the Big East title. They would eventually fall to NC State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, but the strides made created a buzz for 2012.
Player to watch: Bridgewater. Some place him as a frontrunner for Big East player of the year after his breakout freshman campaign. The numbers don't lie, not only did he lead Louisville to wins but he was the primary reason for them. In victories against South Florida and West Virginia he won duels with two of the league's top quarterbacks combining to go 40 of 55 for 487 yards with four TDs and one pick. That's a freshman in the team's biggest games completing 73 percent of his passes. If his game takes another developmental step he'll be the top QB in a league filled with returning signal-callers.
Stat of note: Not only was Bridgewater a freshman QB, but three of his four leading receivers last year were also freshman (Michaelee Harris, Eli Rogers, DeVante Parker). Two of the five starting offensive linemen protecting him? Freshmen.
Why they're dangerous: A team returning a group of freshmen and sophomores that overachieved last season could easily become the beast of the Big East if they continue to progress. In a quarterback sport, they also boast one of the top prospects in the league.  
Media storyline: The school that has won three of the last four BE titles against the one favored to take this one on ESPN. Has all the feel of a swing game to decide the Big East season right out of the conference gate for UC.
Schedule Rank: 3. Placed Pitt above Louisville because of the atmosphere, stage, timing, setting tone, but traveling to the Cards will be the most challenging conference task. 

Syracuse Orange
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Nov. 3
Time: TBA
Offensive Starters: 6/11
Defensive Starters: 6/11
Specialists: 2/2
Last year: The Orange were the anti-Louisville. They opened up 5-2 with a slew of bizarre victories, three in overtime. The second half of the season, however, the wheels came off. The Orange lost the final five games of the season, including a 30-13 victory by the Bearcats in the Carrier Dome.
Player to watch: Alec Lemon. He set a Syracuse record with 68 receptions last year and will be counted on to resuscitate the Orange offense this season. He was second team All-Big East last year.
Stat of note: Syracuse's offense was almost as ugly as their winters. They finished 90th in the country in total offense.  
Why they're dangerous: Anytime you return a senior quarterback and one of the most productive wideouts in school history, the potential exists to win games. Unfortunately, one of the two is the enigmatic Ryan Nassib. The senior QB showed he can be a productive QB (22 TDs, 9 INTs last year) but the Cuse need more from him if they are to make a push at the BE title.
Media storyline: What is it about Syracuse that always brings out the backup QB in the Bearcats? Chazz Anderson started in 2010 and Muchie Legaux filled in for Zach Collaros last year. Will it be three years in a row?
Schedule Rank: 6. By preseason models Syracuse doesn't appear to have the firepower to push for the Big East championship and having the Cuse at Nippert makes this one of the more winnable conference games of the year. 

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