Man, what a wild ride this season was.
The 2016 season for the Louisville Football Cardinals was certainly a memorable one, although at times, it was for both the right and wrong reasons. Now that the dust has settled on one of the more noteworthy seasons in Cardinal Football history, its time to look back and ask ourselves: “Where are we now? Are we on the right track? What is the current state of the Louisville Football program?”
The piece was originally supposed to be a tag team live stream open discussion with Jeremy and I, following the Houston game. Prior to that game, Louisville was 9-1, and we had every reason to believe that we still had a legitimate shot to crack the top 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings. While we still needed help from other teams, we still had hope that with our Heisman candidate quarterback and our high-octane offense, that we could still find a way.
We were more than willing to overlook the fact that they hadn’t really looked like the same team ever since their heartbreaking loss at Clemson, and that there were some weaknesses beginning to emerge. We had hope that maybe, finally, this could be the year.
Then the ball was kicked off down at TDECU Stadium.
11 sacks happened. 3 fumbles happened. Lack of offensive production and defensive ineptitude, happened. This was Louisville’s last chance in the regular season to prove themselves in front of a national audience that they were contenders and not pretenders. They took that opportunity, and took a page out of the Golden State Warriors playbook and choked. All of the critics, the SEC sympathizers, the Booger McFarland’s of the world used this opportunity to scream to the college football world “We told you they didn’t belong!”. And quite frankly, after looking as lethargic as they did down in Houston, who would disagree? Houston was no longer a threat to crack the College Football Playoff, they were barely a threat to make a New Year’s Six bowl, and they made the number five team in the country look like a junior varsity team.
It was a painful loss. More painful than just on the surface, where many on the outside looking in would view it as “Their season is over, maybe next year”. After that loss I began to ask myself the same mystifying question: Will Louisville Football always be one step away? 2004 at Miami. 2006 at Rutgers. 2012 at Syracuse. 2013 against UCF. I began to feel that no matter how good we could be, no matter how far we had come along, as soon as we get on the big stage, in big moments, we’ll come up short by the slimmest of margins. I hated feeling like that. The fan in me wanted to have the contagious energy and optimism that I normally feel that we would rebound. But for some reason, this loss felt different. I bought into the hype. I bought into the notion that this team could really make a run. I mean, I had watched this same team just absolutely lay the wood to Florida State. I woke up at 2am so I could get into College GameDay, and as the day went on, you could just feel the positivity in the air that something special was about to happen.
As that week went on, I tried my damnedest to get over the loss. I eventually resorted to the notion of “There’s no way we could lose to Kentucky! We’ve won five straight, and we’re at home! We have this game in the bag!” to console myself and maybe somehow get some positivity back.
Then, once again, we came up short.
We were 23 point favorites going into that game. The national narrative at that point was that even with our flaws, there was still no way that this SEC bottom dweller had any chance of beating this team in their own building. Not only did they beat us, they enforced their will on us, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The scouting report was simple: they love to run the ball, and they love to throw the deep ball on play action passes. Yet we still couldn’t stop them. With that loss, the bid for the Orange Bowl was all but gone, and Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign hit a pretty hefty speed bump. To say there were a lot of questions surrounding the program at that point was an understatement. How do you lose to Kentucky? How did the offensive line get so bad? Can Lamar still win the Heisman?
Let’s fast forward to the present day now. After the abysmal performance in our bowl game against LSU, its easy to say that the State of the Louisville Football program isn’t exactly stellar, and that the program doesn’t have a very positive outlook. I won’t outright deny that claim and I fully understand where one would be coming from if they held that belief, but the State of the program is a lot more positive than one might think.
The blue chip programs of college football regularly host College GameDay, and for the first time in program history after having a couple worthy bids at it, we finally got to host one. Fortunately, we didn’t squander that opportunity in front of a national audience. Not by a long shot. That was the first national indicator that this team was to be feared and respected. Most importantly from this season, the Cardinals can now claim something that only a few dozen other schools can: A Heisman Trophy winner. Not only does the Heisman bring a ton of buzz to Lamar Jackson as well as to the program, the Heisman also pays major dividends on the recruiting front. As of right now, we are set to have the best recruiting class in school history, and we’re not even done yet. There’s plenty of time between now and NSD, and I’m excited to see how many more top tier recruits decide to don the Cardinal uniform. That, along with some recent shakeups in the coaching staff could bode well for next year’s roster. But thats another topic and article altogether, so I digress.
So while many believe that this season could be classified as a disappoint or even a failure, and that the State of the Louisville program could be on a downwards trajectory, I believe that State of the Louisville Football program is positive and optimistic. I believe that they can finally get that monkey off their back that they can’t come through in the clutch in big moments, and they prove all the critics and naysayers wrong. As doubtful as I was earlier in the season that they’ll never be able to break the glass ceiling, my stance on the matter has changed. As Coach Schnellenberger once proclaimed: they’re on a collision course with the national championship, and the only variable is time. And I truly believe it.