Louisville Football is in uncharted territory. We knew that already. #3 is the highest ranking in school history and it’s still September. There is a lot to play for and a lot of schedule left to manage for the Cards………but that wasn’t always the case.
Think back to the HUGE games in program history. The Fiesta Bowl, The Sugar Bowl, 2006 vs. WVU, 2004 vs. Miami, each of those individually was THE chance on the schedule. The national landscape waited for each of these games to evaluate whether or not Louisville was worthy of consideration. And in 2013 that Cardinal Football team was not afforded that type of opportunity at all.
Now in 2016 the Cards are in the Atlantic Coast Conference, in the Atlantic Division with a win over Florida State & headed for a road match-up to Death Valley against the #5/#4 team in the country. The Cards have a legitimate Heisman Favorite and left on the schedule after Clemson are viable opponents Duke (fresh off a win vs. Notre Dame) and on the road in late November vs. #5/#7 Houston.
Before Saturday Louisville Football was looking for the rare chance to vault itself into the national discussion. The bowl games were always a way to establish the final value of the season….but programs don’t build towards a title in a current season from a bowl and college football has shown a willingness to forget about Louisville over the course of an off-season.
The 2004 game vs. Miami was an awakening of the consciousness around college football for the 1st time that Louisville might be something to reckon with. The Orange Bowl audibly gasped that night as the Cards took the hottest team in college football to the edge and the Canes needed miracle performances from Devin Hester & Frank Gore….and a final miracle drop from Kerry Rhodes. Louisville went up in the polls after that loss and finished #6 in the country after beating upstart 10th ranked Boise State in the Liberty Bowl.
West Virginia came to Papa John’s in 2006 on a cold November night, the Mountaineers & Cards were #3 & #6 respectively . The Cards won that night and UofL Football found itself where it sits today: #3 in the country. Louisville would go on to lose the following week to Rutgers. The unforgiving nature of the BCS & Louisville’s place in it during 2006 rendered that Cardinal Football out of the running of the national championship.
But that’s what’s different about this coming Saturday…… it may not be an elimination game for Clemson OR Louisville. It’s College Game Day again, Death Valley, PRIMETIME, Clemson Loud, Deshaun Watson vs. Lamar Jackson, the Cardinal Defense vs. the Tiger Defense, Dabo vs. Bobby, #3 vs. #5. It’s a battle for the Atlantic Division. The winner has the inside track for the ACC, the Heisman Trophy, the College Football Playoff.
It’s the biggest game in school history for Louisville because for the 1st time ever the Cards enter the contest having already won over the nation’s respect with its win over Florida State. In the past UofL Football just had a single shot to win over the public and never with College Game Day twice in three weeks, never with a Heisman favorite, and never with so much season to play.
If the Cards can pull off the victory in Clemson it will be 5-0. But it will be in the driver’s seat. It will control its own destiny and the imaginations of the fans that fostered this program will be left to run wild as each game builds in significance from the last. It’s all possible, it’s all here and it just seems like Louisville’s time to take it all.