On the significance of the Beef O'Brady's Bowl

In my mind, Louisville's Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest doesn't seem nearly as distant as anything else that occurred at the beginning of 2007.

Florida rolling over Ohio State in the BCS title game may as well have been in the '90s. The tumultuous saga of freshman Derrick Caracter is something I feel like I repressed a decade ago. And starting my final semester of college is something I did an entire lifetime ago.

Still, watching the victorious Cardinal players circle Dolphin Stadium to pose for pictures and oblige the will of any fan who desired to have their hand grasped seems like it was just a couple of months ago.

There's only one explanation for my asymmetrical memory: Since Jan. 2, 2007, we as Louisville football fans have had nothing positive to reminisce about. No postseason, no major regular season triumphs, no competition for a Big East title; the 2006 season - and its end in particular - is the only recent source we've had to spark pleasant daydreaming.

Though playing in a pre-Christmas bowl with a goofy sponsor-dominated name isn't where any of us dreamed this program would be four years ago, tonight has the potential to be an evening we'll look back upon with great fondness several years down the road.

For starters, you have the seniors getting their first taste of the postseason after as controversial a stretch as this program has ever seen. As disappointing and frustrating as the Kragthorpe era was for us fans, imagine being one of the players who came to U of L fully expecting to compete for Big East titles and play in BCS games only to see your season end in November for three straight years. Tonight is a reward for and a celebration of a group of guys who didn't have to stick it out here when things got tough and who will end up deserving a healthy share of the credit for whatever success U of L has over the next two or three seasons.

Tonight is also a tremendous opportunity for guys like Bilal Powell, Johnny Patrick, Cameron Graham, Rodney Gnat, and the senior offensive linemen to begin stating their case to NFL scouts, coaches and executives. ESPN has the coverage and there's really nothing else to watch. Many, many players have been drafted based primarily on performances given on nights like this.

Tonight's also about a bridge to the future. It's time for guys like Hakeem Smith, Jeremy Wright, Daniel Brown, and Shenard Holton to realize that accept the figurative torch and the very real responsibility of a larger role in guiding the direction of this program. No team is successful without production and leadership from experienced upperclassmen, and a pair of recruiting classes chock-full of four and five-stars won't mean anything for the next two years unless these guys accept the duty of leading by example.

Tonight's game will be played in a baseball stadium against a four-loss team from Conference USA, but it could also end up being the night we all look back - with fondness - and point to as the moment when we knew things had officially turned around.

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