Strong saw enough of his senior running back both in ability and perseverance to give him the lofty title. Powell had been little more than a part-timer, starting five games in three seasons and rushing for 933 career yards. When Strong spoke to his team, though, he made it clear Powell would be a key player, if not the key player, for the rebuilding Cardinals.
"I told them we're only going to be as good as Bilal Powell is," Strong said.
Through five games, Powell has been awfully good. He's rushed for a career-high 696 yards; he also has rushed for a touchdown in each game this season. After rushing for 125 yards per game as team last year, Louisville is averaging 218 through five games this season.
In Louisville's past two games, he has rushed for 361 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, but that was against Arkansas State and Memphis. The Cardinals will find out how much Powell has improved and how far the team has come when they play host to two-time defending league champ Cincinnati in Friday's Big East opener.
Powell has opted to let his play -- and only his play -- speak for him; he has not done media interviews since the season began. He's not as quiet with teammates or coaches, but Strong still calls him a "shy guy."
"I don't know if he wanted me to name him the face of the program because he doesn't like the publicity," Strong said. "He would rather just work."
Powell may be quiet, but his story still resonates. He played at Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson, where he was scouted by Strong while he was an assistant at Florida. Strong was impressed, but Powell did not receive a scholarship offer from the Gators.
Before getting his life together late in high school, Powell hung out with gangs in the area. His grades suffered, and he got into trouble. But by the time he reached Louisville, his life off the field has become as quiet as his life in front of the media.
"He tries to live a very clean life. He's absent of drama off the field," Louisville running backs coach Kenny Carter said. "When it's time to get on the field, he wants to be accountable. That says volumes about him."
Along the way, Powell has become quite the example for a Louisville program looking to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2006. He lost 15 pounds in the offseason, became engaged and is letting his play speak for him.
"He's having the success he's always wanted to have," Carter said. "He's not taking it for granted. He's not presumptuous that he deserves it."
Best matchup: Pittsburgh's rush offense vs. Syracuse's rush defense. The Panthers split carries between Dion Lewis (13 for 63 yards) and Ray Graham (eight for 44) last week against Notre Dame, with moderate success. This week, they run into a run defense that has held three opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards. At the same time, Syracuse allowed Colgate to rush for 230 yards (on 52 carries) on Sept. 25. As always, Pitt must run the ball effectively to win.
Player on the spot: Rutgers QB Chas Dodd. Dodd, a true freshman from Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes, made his first career start against Connecticut last week and helped the Scarlet Knights end their two-game losing streak. For the first time all season, Rutgers' passing attack showed some life as Dodd threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-24 win. Tom Savage is not healthy enough to start, but he is listed as the backup. Dodd's second start will come against a scrappy Army defense.
Numbers game: With 2,395 career yards, Syracuse running back Delone Carter passed 1961 Heisman winner Ernie Davis (2,358 yards from 1959-61) on the school's career rushing list. Next up is Damien Rhodes, who ran for 2,461 yards from 2002-05.
What they're saying
"There was definitely some debate any time you're dealing with a guy who's just about 6-foot tall. His numbers were unquestionable. It wasn't until he came up to our camp and we got a chance to see him throw it. Kirk Ciarrocca, our offensive coordinator, and myself got to see him throw. You just knew this kid was a football player, and it didn't matter if he was 6-5 or 6 foot -- he could do it." --Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, on QB Chas Dodd, who is 6-foot. Dodd was high school teammates with South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore
"The thing that I saw when I looked at the past films is I saw a corner [Jerome Murphy], a safety [Nate Allen], a linebacker [Kion Wilson] and two defensive ends [George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul] that are all in the NFL. I'd like to have them back." -- USF coach Skip Holtz, on watching film of past Bulls wins over West Virginia
"He went through us, around us, over us and under us. Anything he wanted to do, he did." -- WVU coach Bill Stewart, on USF QB B.J. Daniels' game against West Virginia last season. He passed for 232 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 104 yards against the Mountaineers
"There's a better trust between coaches and players, players and players, just believing in what we want to do here, what we're trying to accomplish. That's carrying over to the field. Last year, we won a lot of battles off the field." -- Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, on what changed in his team's 4-1 start
Etc.: Cincinnati starting RT Alex Hoffman (knee) will not play against Louisville. He will be replaced by redshirt freshman Andre Cureton. ... Louisville DE Rodney Gnat leads the Big East in sacks with six. ... Connecticut starting CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson is scheduled to have surgery on his hand. The timetable for his return was not disclosed. Huskies coach Randy Edsall said "the injury report is as long as its been since I've been here." ... West Virginia freshman QB Jeremy Johnson left the program for personal reasons. ... Syracuse is 4-1 for the first time since 1999. ... With a season-low 219 yards of offense against Syracuse, USF has had fewer than 300 yards of offense in each of the past three games. ... USF has won three of the past four games over West Virginia, but the Bulls have lost five consecutive Thursday games. ... USF coach Skip Holtz was 1-4 against West Virginia while at East Carolina. … Cincinnati backup RB Darrin Williams (ankle) will not play against Louisville.