It happens every year in college football.
A team will win a major bowl game in impressive fashion and the hype builds. The star player, usually the quarterback, is an underclassman and the Heisman buzz begins. The team makes the cover of all the preseason magazines, picked to win its conference and run the table for an undefeated season.
Every year, this one team falters.
No, I’m not talking about Alabama. I’m talking about Louisville.
It amuses me how so many of the college football media warn us to not put too much stock into bowl game results, to not get too carried away by hype and buzz – and then proceed to lose their minds every year over one team that obviously and clearly cannot back it up.
Bowl games are important. Bowl games are fun. Bowl games can be program builders.
Bowl games do not impact the following season.
Louisville is the team of the moment thanks solely to its absolute destruction of Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
It calls to mind the most recent flameout – West Virginia. To cap off its 2011 season, West Virginia – after a decent, if not great, regular season – strolled into the Orange Bowl as the Big East champion to face another decent, if not great, team in Clemson. The Big East champs drilled the ACC champs to the tune of 70-33. It was a beatdown of epic proportions and one that sent the college football world in a tizzy due to Geno Smith returning and the offensive genius of Dana Holgorsen on full display.
As the Mountaineers prepared for its impending move to the Big 12 in 2012, the hype machine went into overdrive. They were going to show up Texas and Oklahoma. They were going to rip through the Texas Tech’s and Oklahoma State’s of the world. Geno Smith was going to win the Heisman. They were considered an outside national title contender. Everything seemed to be falling in place.
For September – aided by a Charmin-soft schedule – it looked like West Virginia was the real deal.
Except they weren’t. Anyone who had watched West Virginia during the 2011 regular season knew their deficiencies. They couldn’t play defense. Geno Smith did not handle pressure well. Holgorsen’s team had a terrible knack of letting opponents stay in the game. It all came back to bite them.
The 2012 West Virginia football team was last seen getting drilled in the snow and muck of Yankee Stadium by a decidedly mediocre Syracuse team.
If you’re a Louisville fan, you may want to buy your Pinstripe Bowl tickets now.
Louisville’s win over Florida seemed to mean more than West Virginia’s because 2012 Florida was a order of magnitude better than 2011 Clemson. There was just one problem – much like Alabama getting rocked by Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, Florida didn’t show up. Their fans didn’t care, signified by the horrific sight of the Sugar Bowl being played in front of 20,000+ empty seats.
The game meant everything to Louisville. The game meant nothing to Florida. The quotes, one in particular, from Florida players in the offseason confirm that.
That hasn’t stopped the college football media from piling onto the Louisville bandwagon. To make matters even worse for the Cardinals, they play a supposed “weak” schedule in the new American Athletic Conference.
If you watched Louisville during the regular season, you know how close they were to a 7-5 type season. They almost blew a gigantic lead at home to North Carolina. They beat an 0-12 Southern Miss team by 4 points (granted, it was during a monsoon). They beat a 3-9 South Florida team by 2 points at home. They beat a 3-9 FIU team by 7. They needed overtime and a miracle to get by Cincinnati. They were thrashed by Syracuse – the same team that thrashed West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. They lost to UConn – a terrible, awful, unable to score football team – at home.
They would not have even made the Sugar Bowl if Rutgers, as they are wont to do, didn’t choke away a big lead, at home, to clinch the school’s first major bowl berth.
Based on the regular season, no one in the right mind would pick Louisville as a Top 10 team. They are a fringe Top 25 team, at best. Alas, one primetime victory on ESPN over an SEC team has changed the entire conversation.
I hold no ill will toward Louisville, despite the fact they got the ACC “golden ticket” over UConn. I respect Charlie Strong. I think Teddy Bridgewater is an amazing quarterback and is undoubtedly the reason Louisville won 11 games last year. I think the recruiting has picked up. I think the team will be more than competitive. I think they have a chance, if things go well, to win the first American Athletic Conference championship.
But they are not a national championship contender. Teddy Bridgewater is not going to win the Heisman Trophy. The schedule is tougher than anyone will give them credit for – thus, the inevitable losses will feel even more shocking.
So how is Louisville losing 4 games? For starters, opening against Ohio in an ESPN slot on Labor Day Sunday is not the way I would want to start the season – Ohio is not a team you roll over. While I think they win that game, I believe they go down to Kentucky in week 3. Playing Kentucky week 1 into the Mark Stoops era would have been perfect, but I like the momentum Stoops built and playing at home against an archrival with a lofty ranking – disaster written all over it.
The next 2 losses will come at home in quick succession when Rutgers, who was frankly a better team in 2012, and UCF, who is way better than anyone knows, comes to town. The last loss will come in the season-ender when Cincinnati, likely still playing for a BCS berth, exacts their revenge
Let’s not forget the added motivation that teams like USF and UConn have – they know that Louisville is leaving the conference. As we’ve seen during past tours of teams playing a lame duck season – Boston College in 2004 is arguably the best example – the other teams like the send a message on the way out. It would not surprise me if USF or UConn play above their heads and give Louisville a fifth loss.
The 2013 Louisville football season will be a disappointment. You shouldn’t feel bad for Louisville. They’ll join the ACC in 2014. They have a Sugar Bowl ring. They won a National Title in basketball. The women’s team made the Final Four. Life for Louisville athletics is pretty sweet.
But to expect them to recapture the magic of a charmed 2012 season is too much to ask. If you want to make some easy money, go to Vegas and bet the under on Louisville’s win total.
They will be this season’s biggest failure. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Follow me on Twitter