The Murray state game was anything but pretty, we all know that. There were players injured, and there were players accumulating their first minutes at the collegiate level...... we all know that. At 8pm Friday night the Cardinals will play a game that could very well be the difference between going bowling, and throwing a gutter ball at the end of the 2011 season. The team that rolls into Papa John's on Friday night has talent, speed, experience, and depth; but in the end they will only be remembered as a small part of this program's story.
A quick glance at the FIU roster tells a lot about what might happen Friday night. They return eight starters on offense and seven on defense, from a team that finished 7-6 last year after starting 0-4, then went on to win the Little Ceasar's Pizza Bowl. Their two deep depth chart is full of upper class-men, with only one freshman, and a handful of sophomores. They have a receiver who was the Sun Belt's player of the year last season, T.Y. Hilton (notice the big plays against Florida and Alabama). T.Y. is currently the nations #1 all purpose offensive player after racking up 238 yards this week against North Texas. They have a senior quarter back who will operate behind a large/ experienced offensive line. It's a line that paved the way for a stable of running backs that spear headed the nation's 27th ranked rushing attack last year. They won the Sun Belt in 2010 and are the clear cut favorites to repeat in 2011.
If the name on the front of their jerseys was one from a BCS conference,.... Louisville would easily be a 25-30 point home underdog. If there was ever an early season game against a non BCS opponent that could be considered "dangerous", then this is it. Going 6-6 was good enough to earn an appearance in a bowl game last year; but, had Arkansas State gotten the best of the Cardinals on the road there would have been no joy in Card-ville last December. FIU could easily be a team Louisville fans look back at and curse for costing them bowl eligibility; but, I don't think they will.
The Louisville coaching staff will know a lot more about FIU than this humble Google Ninja could possibly dig up in a few short moments. I believe they will have their team prepared, motivated, and aware of what this game could mean come December. The defensive players who sat and watched last Thursday should be chomping at the bit. Another week of practice/ film study will help the offense find their timing and rhythm. I have supreme faith in all of these things; but, just how much improvement can be made in one week? I don't know, but I do know that the Louisville football Cardinals will need the help of their fans in order to get a win Friday night. There are still plenty of tickets available and even though FIU isn't a big name, it would be awesome to see that UPS flight deck full of fans who know how much this game could mean at the end of the year.
Maybe I'm hopelessly optimistic about this season? Maybe I'm overestimating FIU? Maybe I'm just a homer who idealistically expects the best possible outcomes for his team. I suppose that's just the fan that I am, and I can honestly tell you why. Sports aren't like life, where I've learned over the years that it's less painful to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. With sports, there's not as much risk so we don't have to do that. With sports we can expect the best, and if we don't get it, the worst that happens is that we're disappointed to one degree or another. As the Labor Day weekend comes to an end for a sports fan like me, who would rather take a shotgun blast to the face than watch a regular season baseball game, this is the beginning of the most wonderful 7 months of the year. For a sports fan like me, September is where hope springs eternal; and this football team is now in the driver's seat of my emotions. Emotions which I will pour out into stadiums and living rooms eleven more times from now until December. Winning record,.... losing record,.... bowl game or not; I will appreciate the emotions they evoke and give them my all, as a fan, in return for what it is that they give me.
The big picture, the whole story, is that last season was just the beginning; and this season is merely the step after the beginning. It is the second step in what Charlie Strong is building here. Now, I'm not old enough to remember what it felt like to see the beginnings of the Denny Crum era or the start of Howard's "Collision Course" but, I can't imagine that the excitement and buzz among the fans was any less tangible than it is right now. I urge all the fans of this program to support this team win or lose. To never boo when the offense stalls, to always get loud on third down, and to always leave Papa John's knowing you gave them as much as they tried to give you.
A few years back as I watched the 63-14 beat down Rutgers gave us in Piscataway, I left midway through the 4th quarter to meet my future fiance for a drink. As we sat down the game was playing in the background and she asked me why I was still watching something that was so obviously painful to me. I paused, and then told her that it was so I would never forget how far we had fallen once we climbed to the top. I told her that one day when we won the national championship I would appreciate it more than someone who stopped watching in the second quarter. Is that true? I don't know. What I do know is that I find myself just as excited about a team in 2011, that might finish 5-7, as I was about a team I thought could win it all in 2006. Why? Because we've come a long way already and I find myself categorically unafraid of how much further we have to go. Even if it means taking a loss to a team from the Sun Belt Conference, which I don't think will happen but, I definitely know it could. Go Cards.