Teddy Bridgewater Maintains Heisman Pace, Now Must Prep for Showdown vs. SEC

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2013

Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals played another inferior opponent on Saturday, beating Eastern Kentucky 44-7 and making another statement about their ability to crush bad teams.

But in Week 3 they'll get their first true test, trading in a MAC and FCS opponent for a SEC team in Kentucky.

Beating bad teams by large margins is a sign of championship football, something the folks at Football Outsiders go into some detail explaining. Last year Louisville struggled in that department, beating 3-9 South Florida by two points at home and 0-12 Southern Mississippi by just four.

This year, however, they have passed those early tests with authority. Saturday's win comes on the heels of an equally impressive 49-7 win over Ohio, an FBS bowl team from 2012 who returned most of its core and is expected to compete in the MAC. 

Bridgewater has validated (and exceeded) his substantial preseason hype, finishing the Eastern Kentucky game with 397 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. For the year, he's now 46-of-60 with 752 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception.

And he's been pulled at the end of both those games.

Still, next week the Cardinals play Kentucky, a team that is (technically) an SEC foe, giving them a chance to pass a much different test. And it's a test that they, again, need to pass with flying colors.

Because of Louisville's cupcake schedule, next week's game with Kentucky is legitimately a huge one. It's one of the four hardest opponents the Cardinals will play all year, even if the Wildcats lost a Week 1 game to a team from the Sun Belt (for the second straight year).

The Cardinals don't just need to prove they can beat Kentucky; they need to prove they can obliterate Kentucky. If they struggle, no matter the conference Kentucky plays in, it will do irreparable damage to their BCS profile.

This is their best (and only) point of comparison against top-flight SEC teams—programs the Cardinals will, ostensibly, be jockeying with in the BCS standings. If Louisville fancies itself a legitimate national title contender, it needs to win this game decisively.

Ditto for Bridgewater as a Heisman candidate.

Unlike teams from the "true" power conferences, merely going undefeated will not be enough for Louisville this season. They need to roll to a 12-0 record. Last season Georgia beat Kentucky by just five, and it haunted the Bulldogs' public reputation all year. But teams like South Carolina and Florida, who beat Kentucky by a combined 59 points, didn't face the same scrutiny.

Georgia was able to redeem its reputation with wins over Florida and Ole Miss in subsequent weeks. But Louisville isn't so lucky. Again: This is the Cardinals' one and only common opponent with most SEC contenders. It's the reference point on which most (if not all) conclusions will be drawn.

Kentucky won't roll over. It rebounded from a Week 1 loss by looking pretty good against Miami (OH). An SEC-best 50,831 fans filed into Commonwealth Stadium for the Wildcats' spring game, so you can only imagine how many will show up to watch a Top-10 team.

Mark Stoops' team will fight, and Louisville will have to earn everything it gets.

Winning the game is usually enough. In most of Louisville's contests this year, that will be the case. If the Cardinals go 12-0 this season, no matter the margin of victory, they will assuredly play in a BCS bowl.

But if they want to dream bigger than that, winning is just one part of what they need to do next weekend.