LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Two teams whose seasons were on the brink of imploding but who now have a new, fresh outlook on life in the fickle world of major college football square off Saturday afternoon to determine which one is able to capitalize on its new-found momentum.
However, Louisville (1-4, 0-4) and Florida State (2-3, 1-3), who will kick off at Noon in Cardinal Stadium (ACCN, RSN), are getting their excitement and optimism from opposite ends of the win-lost column.
The Cardinals have drawn inspiration and confidence from a strong performance last weekend when they took No. 4 Notre Dame down to the wire on the road in a 12-7 loss that featured their best defensive effort in perhaps four seasons.
"We hope that what we did last week instills a little bit of confidence and ecouragement to our guys to continue what they're doing so that we will be able to go out there and get some big wins," UofL coach Scott Satterfield said. "That's obviously what it's all about and we've got to continue to do those little things to make that happen. I think they're eager and hungry to get some wins."
Another reason for the Cards to have some extra juice is that they will be making their first appearance on their home field in more than a month after three straight losses on the road. Their last game on campus was a 47-34 drubbing by Miami that kicked off their current four-game losing streak.
"That's a long time for road games," Satterfield said. "It's great for us not to have to go through all the travel things with the pandemic. For us to be able to stay home for awhile, we welcome that for sure."
This is the worst start for Louisville this century -- even the hapless 2018 team was 2-1 before collapsing and losing its next nine games. The last time the Cards were 1-4 was in 1997 when Ron Cooper's final team went 1-10.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, were bolstered by a 31-28 upset of No. 5 North Carolina in Tallahassee as they continued to show improvement following a change of starting quarterbacks. It was FSU's first win over a top-5 opponent in Doak Campbell Stadium as an unranked team since 1965, when it beat No. 5 Georgia 10-3.
"There's been plenty of adversity that has shown up throughout the early part of the season, but these guys believe in what they're doing," FSU coach Mike Norvell said. "It's been challenging in every aspect, but they've just continued to respond. We're a work in progress, but our guys are giving everything they have and we're excited. I think it's going to be monumental for us to continue to grow and build off this example."
UofL will be trying to duplicate its defensive performance while seeking to rejuvenate its struggling offense, which has averaged only 18.0 points and 317.3 yards per game in its last three outings.
"We've just got to execute better and stay positive and keep faith in what we're doing," wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick said. "If you start to slouch, it becomes a domino effect and continues to fall down. Good teams know how to pick things up and get out of downhill spirals and that's what we need to do."
An intriguing storyline for the game revolves around dual threat Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis, a redshirt sophomore who will be a familiar face to many of the Cardinals since he is facing his former team.
The West Palm Beach, Fla., native played briefly in three games for UofL in 2018 as a true freshman and entered the transfer portal before Satterfield and his staff arrived to take over from Bobby Petrino. He announced in December that he was transferring to FSU.
Fitzpatrick says that even in that limited time he saw something special in the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Travis.
"I could already tell he was going to be a great quarterback one day by the way he throws the ball and his football IQ," Fitzpatrick said.
Watching Travis on film, UofL defensive coordinator Bryan Brown has the same high opinion of the former 3-star QB.
"His arm is really strong," Brown said. "With a flick of the wrist he can throw the ball 40 or 50 yards off his back foot. He does a good job in the run game as well in the drop back passing game. If something isn't there, he's able to step through a gap on the edge and take it the distance. He's a hard guy to bring down and he seems like a very cerebral kid who understands coverages."
Since taking over as the starting quarterback midway through FSU' 41-24 win over Jacksonville State on Oct. 3, Travis has ignited a spark in the Seminoles' offense, which has scored on 15 of 31 drives and is averaging 7 yards per play. Before that, FSU had scored on only 5 of 26 possessions.
After throwing for 191 yards, running for 107 and accounting for three touchdowns against the Tar Heels, Travis leads FSU in both passing yards (617) and rushing yards (342, 5.8 per carry).
"Jordan is an incredible competitor," Norvell said. "He makes some unbelievable plays and he leads this offense. I think there is a great deal of confidence in the job he does, the decisions he makes and how he is able to extend some plays as a runner."
Travis told the Tallhassee Democrat that he's not paying any attention to the narrative about his return to Louisville.
"It's just a game. I don't get into stuff like that at all," he said. "What happened in the past happened. I'm at a new school now and I'm with my boys. I'd rather not get into the experience of what happened there, but I still talk to some of my old teammates there.
"They're a very talented defense, a very talented team. They have a lot of athletes all over the field. They're a good team. But this week, we're focused on ourselves and just trying to get better."
Travis will face a UofL defense that cornerback Tre Clark believes is finally hitting its stride, thanks in large part to its showing against the Irish, who were held to 28 points and 100 yards under their averages.
"All week, guys have been motivated and more locked in than I've ever seen," Clark said. "It's bringing a type of swagger to ourselves, too. Not being cocky because we still lost and there's no moral victories. But at the end of the day we know what this defense is capable of and there's a lot of motivation going into this game."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at email@example.com.