Over the past three decades, Louisville football has won more than it has lost, occasionally breaking through with a huge season. Nothing like basketball’s consistency, but with Sugar and Orange bowl trophies in the last decade, what programs this side of Alabama or Ohio State wouldn’t take that?
The Cardinals might be on to something bigger this season.
Louisville’s 43-point walloping of Florida State on Saturday made the biggest impression in a weekend full of stunning developments as the Cardinals climbed to third in The Associated Press poll behind Alabama and Ohio State.
It also means Louisville replaces Houston as the early-season favorite to crash the College Football Playoff projections, and for that the teams have Oklahoma to credit/blame.
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The Sooners’ 45-24 home loss to the Buckeyes not only crushed Oklahoma’s national-title hopes, it lessens the impact of Houston’s victory on opening weekend. But it heightens the anticipation for Louisville at Houston on Nov. 17.
Before that showdown, the Cardinals visit Clemson (Oct. 1) and suddenly that ACC game looks like the next can’t-miss clash, with quarterbacks Lamar Jackson vs. Deshaun Watson in a battle of the early season Heisman favorites.
All of this because Florida State, which fell from second to 13th in the AP poll, had no answer for a Louisville team that treated the Seminoles as rudely as its first two opponents, Charlotte and Syracuse. It wasn’t supposed to this easy.
But coach Bobby Petrino has put together an incredible offense, and he’s always been a supreme play-caller. In Jackson, he has a leader whose dual-threat talents have been compared to Michael Vick, who led Virginia Tech to a national championship game.
On Saturday, Vick said via Twitter that the comparison is unfair because “Lamar Jackson is 5x better than I was at V-Tech …”
Petrino’s career hasn’t operated as smoothly as his offense. In 2007, he left the Atlanta Falcons for Arkansas with three games left in the season, prompting one player to call him a coward.
Petrino’s motorcycle crash while riding with his mistress and later lying about the incident cost him the Razorbacks’ job.
But his coaching chops have never been questioned, and Western Kentucky brought Petrino back into the game. One season later, he was back with Louisville, where he broke in as a head coach in 2003.
Now, he has shaped a team with no limits on the possibilities. Louisville should be part of every CFP projection.
As the Cardinals soar, aspirations for some early favorites fade. Florida State, yes. But as badly as the Seminoles lost on Saturday, it’s just one blemish. Only a series of upset-filled weekends could return two-loss Oklahoma and Notre Dame, which fell at Michigan State, to the national-title picture, and the reality is they’re simply not at that elite level this season.
That’s especially difficult for the No. 25 Sooners, who opened the season third in the preseason polls and have almost played their way out of the rankings before conference play opened.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops didn’t mince words after the beatdown, calling Ohio State “an outstanding team that really beat the heck out of us.”
Narrow losses can hurt as much as blowouts. Consider the plights of Iowa and Oregon. The Hawkeyes became the latest to fall to the FCS program that plays, thinks and acts like an FBS team — North Dakota State. The Bison triumphed on a final-play field goal and beat an FBS team for the sixth time since 2010. Iowa, which was No. 13, was the first ranked team in that group.
Oregon matched Nebraska touchdown for touchdown, each scoring five. But after converting a two-pointer after the first touchdown, the Ducks went for two each time, missing the next four and returned with a 35-32 loss.
Ducks coach Mark Helfrich said they trust their system, but there’s no arguing those extra-point decisions were questionable. Just like the one Oregon made last year when it agreed to a 2020 game against North Dakota State.