For the University of Louisville football team, this season pretty much shaped up as “Season Impossible.”
Bolstered by a rout of Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and the return of Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, as well as wealth of starters on both sides of the football, the Cardinals were expected to sweep their depleted conference, return to a BCS bowl and possibly compete for a national championship.
Even a single loss would be a huge disappointment. Those were heady expectations. And they were never realistic.
For starters, Louisville’s previous season was overrated because of the way it ended, with the stunning victory over the Gators. In reality, Louisville backed into a BCS spot after losing to Syracuse and Connecticut in back-to-back weeks. Earlier that season, the Cardinals barely survived by a touchdown and less in adverse weather in consecutive weeks at Florida International and Southern Mississippi.
So the idea that U of L would easily run the table this year were always overly optimistic. Perhaps it felt like everything would always go U of L’s way following the “Year of the Cardinal,” in which pretty much everything did. That’s why U of L’s loss to Central Florida, and UCF’s subsequent win over Houston, which all but cemented the American Conference’s BCS bid for them, and not Louisville, was so devastating.
But make no mistake about it. Even with the BCS bid likely gone, there’s plenty left for Charlie Strong’s club to play for. If UCF loses just once, and Louisville wins out, the Cardinals can still share a conference title, which would be their third straight. Additionally, if Louisville wins out, they would play in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla., against a very attractive opponent in the ACC’s third-best team, currently Miami. Many of Louisville’s peer schools, including its most hated rival, would kill for such a spot. Even Florida, the top-five team Louisville beat last season, is fighting for its bowl life this year.
Conference affiliation is the third and most important reason for Louisville to close the season, excuse the expression, strongly. The Cards need momentum to springboard into the ACC and tougher competition next season.
In closing, this year’s Louisville team probably won’t win a BCS bowl, but the 2013 Cardinals haven’t lost to inferior competition either. Even their “close calls,” were comfortable victories. They led a solid UCF team for most of their only loss.
With Bridgewater likely gone next season and the ACC looming, including the aforementioned Miami, as well as Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech, expectations will be more rational next year. That’s good because this team and its coaches all need to grow to be successful in the ACC. In the meantime, I’ll be at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium Saturday night rooting for a team that might not be perfect, but is still pretty good.