Look Out for Louisville
By BJ Bennett
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Relatively unheralded it seems, one of college football's recent major players is making a major move.
With 23 victories the past two years, eight nine-win-or-more seasons since the turn of the century and the school's winningest coach ever back to lead the way, Louisville has the framework of a contender. The Cardinals have a rabid fan base, a name-brand staff with ties to prime recruiting real estate and the momentum of joining a power five conference. What they might not be getting, however, is the attention they deserve.
The blind taste test is as sweet as sugar, see a double-digit point postseason pummeling of Florida two years prior. Overall, Louisville has won 14-of-15 contests, defeating the Gators and, most recently, Miami in bowl games by a combined score of 69-32 in that span.
This past season the Cardinals tied a school-record with a dozen victories, losing only to Central Florida on a touchdown pass from the first quarterback taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, Blake Bortles, with just 23 seconds left to play. Louisville finished ranked in the top 15 in the national polls.
Boasting a first round signal caller of their own in Teddy Bridgewater, the Cardinals led the American Athletic Conference in scoring offense last fall. More impressively, Louisville, not Alabama, Florida State or Michigan State, allowed the fewest total points and touchdowns in the nation. The Cardinals, on six different occasions, held their opponent to single digits.
Looking ahead, Louisville's transition to the ACC has many on-field parallels. For the first time in three years, Bridgewater won't be under center in the Commonwealth. The program will also be without head coach Charlie Strong, who was hired last winter as the replacement to Mack Brown at Texas. Strong won a trio of bowl games with the Cardinals, earning a share of the Big East title in both 2011 and 2012.
The return of Bobby Petrino, formerly the head coach of Western Kentucky, Arkansas and the Atlanta Falcons, reunites Louisville with an unprecedented era of success he compiled at the school from 2003-2006. With the Cardinals during their transition from Conference USA to the Big East, Petrino went 41-9 in four seasons. He was a perfect 4-0 against rival Kentucky during that span, also beating, among others, Boise State, Miami, Kansas State, North Carolina and Oregon State out of conference.
Petrino and Louisville went 12-1 in 2006, losing only by a last-minute field goal at Rutgers in early November. The Cardinals later topped ACC Champion Wake Forest 24-13 in the Orange Bowl.
Today's Louisville is entering a division paced by defending national champion Florida State and the most recent Orange Bowl winner, Clemson. Together, Seminoles and Tigers form the ultimate measure stick. Returning stars like corner Charles Gaines, receiver DeVante Parker and center Jake Smith, the Cardinals are primed to compete. This is a team with top-level talent.
Louisville will debut, hosting Miami on Labor Day, in the spotlight it hopes to stay in. Perhaps most interestingly is that the Cardinals also get Florida State at home, a Thursday night showcase at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The last meeting between the two, coming back in 2002, was a historic Louisville victory -- on a Thursday night in northern Kentucky.
Relatively unheralded it seems, given the above accomplishments, one of college football's recent major players is making a major move. For point of reference, Louisville's latest senior class had a better record than Virginia Tech's. Fully appreciated or not, the Cardinals give the ACC added credibility.
Foreshadowing suggests that the program's upcoming shift will be made right into a prominent position.