It’s been a great time to be a sports fan in Louisville lately. The basketball team won the 2013 national championship this past April. The baseball team made the College World Series a couple months later. And the football team beat Florida to win the Sugar Bowl following the 2012 season. Now the question is whether football can go one step further, enjoy an undefeated season and possibly end up in the BCS National Championship Game.
Are these realistic goals? Louisville is currently ranked 8th in the country and will be in the national spotlight on Thursday night when they host Rutgers (7:30 PM ET, ESPN). These two teams settled the Big East championship a year ago, and this game tonight might do the same in the newly-named American Athletic Conference before both go their separate ways (Louisville to the ACC, Rutgers to the Big Ten).
TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage will summarize the path Louisville has taken to get to 5-0, and then look at the path ahead. Let’s begin with the rundown on the five games they’ve played…
Ohio (49-7): This is Ohio’s only loss and was a good defensive showing against a program that’s become a perennial bowl team and has a good quarterback in Tyler Tettleton. He has forced into an 11/23 for 140 yards, while Louisville’s Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater lit it up for 23/28, 355 yards and five touchdown passes.
Eastern Kentucky (44-7): The Colonels are an FCS-level team and have lost two additional games at that level. Hardly impressive if you’re Louisville, and if you look at how the running game got only 78 yards on 28 carries, even alarming.
Kentucky (27-13): Senorise Perry and the rest of the running game gets it in gear. Perry carries 11 times for 100 yards and the ground attack as a whole produces 242 yards. The rush defense is problematic though, as the Wildcats get 162 yards and if they don’t turn it over three times, this might have been a lot closer. Again, a mild alarm bell for a team thinking national championship.
Florida International (72-0): FIU has won just one game this year and that was over Southern Miss in a battle to determine the two worst teams at the FBS level. But even so, if you beat a team 72-0 you played pretty well.
Temple (30-7): Louisville showcases a balanced rushing attack, getting Dominique Brown into the act while Bridgewater keeps rolling with a 25/35 for 348 yards day. Nothing to quibble about in the performance, only in the fact that Temple is winless on the year.
Over the course of these five games, Bridgewater has completed 72 percent of his passes, averaged 10.77 yards-per-attempt and thrown 16 touchdowns against just one interception. Those are all Heisman numbers.
The quality of the schedule is an obvious and justifiable criticism, but we do need to point out that the Kentucky game looks more impressive as the season goes by. At the time the Wildcats were seen as the worst team in the SEC and had lost to Western Kentucky. The ‘Cats probably still are the worst in the SEC, but they played Florida and South Carolina as tough as Louisville.
One might reasonably argue that the Gators and Gamecocks are also not national championship worthy and that’s a fair–and likely an accurate–argument. But neither is anyone dismissing the chances of Florida and South Carolina if they should prove their mettle the rest of the way. Louisville deserves the same courtesy.
Louisville’s road ahead is going to get tougher, and it starts Thursday night. Rutgers has a win over Arkansas under their belt. One week later, Louisville hosts Central Florida in a Friday night game (8 PM ET, ESPN on October 18). UCF has beaten Penn State and nearly upended South Carolina. Both of the games are chances for the Cardinals to prove something to a national audience.
If we look ahead, games with Houston and Memphis in November aren’t going to be rollovers, and while Cincinnati has been disappointing, the Bearcats are still 3-2 and will be a threat to upset Louisville when the Cards come north on Thursday, December 5.
We may as well separate this into two separate discussions–will Louisville go undefeated and if so, will they make the BCS National Championship Game. The odds on the latter are just so stacked against them it’s hard to see it.
You can book one spot in the January 7 title game at Pasadena for the SEC. The other slot has the Stanford/Oregon and Clemson/Florida State winners in line, along with Oklahoma and Ohio State. That’s just the beginning, because even asking voters to move Louisville past a one-loss team and into the BCS title game is asking a lot.
The schedule is very favorable, with four of the five challenging games noted at home, and we’re being very generous in calling Memphis a challenge, at least if the standard is playing for the national title. I can’t see Louisville getting the breaks, and while I’d like to go to bat for them, I really can’t blame the voters.
Furthermore, I just have my doubts that the ‘Ville is going to make it through unscathed. The games against Kentucky and Temple were nice enough, but they didn’t scream “undefeated season” at me. I certainly see this team as the best in the American Athletic and that’s automatic entry into another major bowl game. But the Louisville BCS Championship chances? Not gonna happen, and I think they end up 11-1.
Oddsmakers are relatively bullish on the Cards, pricing them at 30-1 to win the national title. Keep in mind, this means they not only get the unlikely invite to Pasadena but then win the game. 30-1 seems a little short, particularly when you see Oklahoma and LSU at the same number, Texas A&M at 75-1 and South Carolina at 200-1.