No. 18 Louisville playing with something to prove

No. 18 Louisville playing with something to prove

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville enters Saturday's Big East Conference opener at Pittsburgh unbeaten and seeking some national respect.

The No. 18 Cardinals have been ranked all season and are 5-0 for the first time since 2006. But after losses by eight teams ahead of them - including LSU, Florida State, Georgia and Texas last weekend - they have moved up just seven spots.

That's added motivation for Louisville to keep doing what its been doing - winning.

The Cardinals want to win the Big East and clinch an automatic Orange Bowl berth. But they will probably have to finish undefeated to have even an outside shot of being considered for the Bowl Championship Series title game.

The first BCS standings will be released on Sunday.

But coach Charlie Strong said first things first.

``Now we start the real season, which I call the real season because it's the conference season,'' Strong said earlier this week. ``Everything from here out counts.''

Louisville shared last season's conference championship with Cincinnati and West Virginia, which it beat in Morgantown. The Mountaineers' win over Cincinnati helped them earn the Orange Bowl berth.

But now No. 5 West Virginia is a member of the Big 12. Next season Pittsburgh and Syracuse will join the Atlantic Coast Conference. What's left is an image of a foundering conference lacking strong teams.

That sounds strange considering three Big East teams - Louisville, No. 20 Rutgers (5-0, 2-0) and No. 21 Cincinnati (4-0, 1-0) are all ranked in this week's poll. Nonetheless, the remaining Big East teams seem to have to prove their worth - simply winning is not enough.

``Because of what's happened to the conference over the last seven or eight years, I think the perception is that the Big East is a step or two beneath the other conferences that are out there,'' ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. ``And yet, here they have three teams that are ranked.

``For Louisville, Cincinnati and even Rutgers I just think they're getting attention for the first five or six weeks and now that they've gotten some attention, people are going to sit back and evaluate them and take into consideration whether they're a top-15, top-10 or eventually a top-seven or -eight type of team. All three will need a lot of help to move up the BCS standings.''

Especially Louisville, further hampered by opponents' poor record.

The five teams it has beaten are a combined 6-23. The Cardinals' next seven opponents are 20-15, but only 11-15 when Cincinnati and Rutgers are removed from the equation.

All three ranked Big East schools will face each other over the next seven weeks, and that shake-up could affect outsiders' perceptions as well.

``If you look at it now, it's hard to imagine a game between Louisville and Rutgers at the end of the year (going) a long way toward determining who eventually emerges as the Big East champion,'' added Herbstreit, whose preseason pick was Pitt.

While the Cardinals can't change their opponents' fortunes, they aim to avoid playing down to their level.

The Cardinals hope last week's bye will help correct inconsistency that has slowed their ascent. After a fast offensive start in which they averaged 35 points and nearly 468 yards per game at home, they've dropped to 24.5 and 296 respectively playing the past two games on the road.

Bad weather might explain Louisville's minus-2 turnover margin the past two weeks, but for the most part the Cardinals have struggled to put a complete game together. Against North Carolina last month, Louisville led 36-7 at one point before the Tar Heels rallied to within five, falling short of the upset when the Cardinals deflected an end-zone pass.

In road victories over FIU (1-5) and Southern Mississippi (0-5), the Cardinals have had to overcome slow starts before rallying and then holding on.

``We haven't played very well the last couple of games,'' Louisville offensive guard Jake Smith said. ``It's evident, you guys know and we know. We have to come out and prove we're a lot better team than that because we haven't been playing to our level.''

The Cardinals would certainly love to do that to avenge last November's home 21-14 loss to the Panthers, their last regular season defeat. Though Pitt was upset by Football Championship Subdivision member Youngstown State and is coming off last week's conference loss at Syracuse, Louisville expects a tough game.

The Panthers will certainly be the most physical opponent Louisville has played.

``When you play Pitt, you learn how smash-mouthed and hard-nosed you are,'' Smith added. ``(You) not only have to match a team's physicality, but you have to overcome it and show that you're a more physical team. It's going to be a tough task because Pitt is hard-nosed and smash mouth. The most physical team is going to win this game.''

In spite of everything, the Cardinals have the record they wanted and are confident of building on it. Louisville has won 10 of 11 games going back to last season and enters the toughest part of its schedule more experienced than a year ago.

Maximizing that and other skills will determine if the Cardinals complete a perfect season and see their bowl prospects end in a best-case scenario.

``We haven't really shown our abilities the last few games, but we know we have that ability,'' junior safety Hakeem Smith said. ``We've got to use all our talent and blow teams out, put up numbers, basically just showcase everybody's ability.

``We have to prove ourselves, and things will fall into place.''


AP freelance writer Josh Abner contributed to this report

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins and leadership, D-line potential

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins and leadership, D-line potential

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, July 21, five days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington.

How the addition of Alexander affects the Redskins' DB depth chart—Adonis Alexander was brought into the NFL about a week and a half ago and in five days he’ll be on the practice field in Richmond. How much will missing OTAs and minicamp hurt him in comparison to, say, his former Hokie teammate Greg Stroman? I think that the plan is for this to be a “redshirt” year for Alexander to learn. But that was supposed to be the plan for Josh Harvey-Clemons and Chase Roullier last year and both ended up playing key snaps. 

Can the Redskins defensive line live up to its potential? Many NFL fans don’t appreciate the value of having a good defensive line. Redskins fans are not in that group because they have seen what you get when you try to build a defensive line with over-the-hill veteran free agents, low draft picks, and undrafted players. Fans will value the talent, youth, and depth on the 2018 D-line.  

10 Questions in 10 days: LB depth chart—This is another area where the Redskins have not invested much in recent seasons. At least this year they stepped up and re-signed starters Mason Foster and Zach Brown. They are the present. Are Shaun Dion Hamilton and Josh Harvey-Clemons the future? 

The pass rush must continue to be a strength for the Redskins—With the picture at the cornerback position is somewhat murky right now, the pass rush will be critical, especially in the early going. The outside linebackers lost a key reserve, putting the burden on Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan to continue to get pressure on Ryan Anderson to take a leap forward in his second season. 

Tweet of the week

Well, this tweet did sort of stir things up as did some of the things that Cousins said in an article by Dan Pompei on the Bleacher Report. The thing about Twitter is that there is no room for nuance. I was labeled a Kirk “hater” by some. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. On multiple occasions, I urged the team to sign him long term and highlighted the positive aspects of his play. 

But this thing about not having a “platform” to lead always struck me as a cop-out. Cousins talked about it during some press conferences while he was here. The length of your contract should not prevent you from embracing a leadership role. You’re getting paid to lead, just do it. Few in leadership positions in business or in the military know where they will be a year from now. They embrace the role while they have it and Cousins should have done the same. 

The fact that I don’t like this one aspect of Cousins doesn’t mean that I don’t like him overall. He’s a good quarterback and I think he will have success with the Vikings. I think that the price got to be too much for the Redskins and the decision to move on to Alex Smith was sound or at least the best they could do after it became apparent that he was not going to sign here. But it’s not all one or the other. It is possible to see the positive and negative of Cousins. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler


Mike Sellers, whose seven receiving touchdowns in 2005 were the most by a Redskins running back since the merger, was born on this date in 1975.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 5
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 19
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 42

The Redskins last played a game 202 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 50 days. 

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Vernon Davis pulls off memorable proposal in Ocean City

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Vernon Davis pulls off memorable proposal in Ocean City

Vernon Davis has long been a fan favorite in the D.C. area since his University of Maryland days. The 34-year-old is almost always well-dressed and respectful to the media. 

More recently, he has been outspoken about his interest in acting after his football career. A true renaissance man who just so happens to be a force in the National Football League. 

In April, NBC Sports Washington ran into Davis at the Team USA Awards where he was serving as guest speaker. 

He took his smooth nature to a whole new level Tuesday while vacationing in Ocean City, Md. with his girlfriend Kayla. 

Dressed in all white on the beach, Davis proposed in an epic way. 

The best motivation I ever had. #shesmyrock

A post shared by Vernon Davis (@vernondavis85) on

Check out the whole video produced below. We won't spoil it for you, but there were skydivers involved. Take a look: 

Davis will suit up for his third season with the Redskins when training camp opens July 26 in Richmond.