What happened today in the Carrier Dome yesterday was a reckoning of sorts. It was the sum of a football team's shortcomings being called in for payment. The gridiron Gods had smiled upon Card Nation in so many games this season that, I suppose, it was a loss which could be seen from 2, 417 miles away (that's the Google maps calculation from Vegas' 1.5 spread to Syracuse, NY). Right now this is a loss that stings for Cards fans; but it isn't a loss that ruins the 2012 campaign by any stretch of the imagination. What it did for me, was bring about a hefty dose of reality.
This team had so many things go its way from the start of the season until now. It had been relatively injury free, and in many respects it had the injury bug work in its favor. North Carolina came to town without its most dynamic play-maker, and top two WRs MIA. FIU's starting QB went down early after moving his offense with relative ease. Southern Miss was forced to play its 3rd string freshmen QB. Pittsburgh's Ray Graham didn't start looking like himself until the week after we left Heinz Field. Cincinnati's best pass rusher wasn't able to go in the battle for the Keg of Nails. Let's be clear, those things were not why the Cards got to 9-0, but they sure didn't hurt their chances.
Then there were the actual happenings in the games that should have served as warning signals that a bill was coming due. UK and Missouri State both moved the ball on our defense with little resistance. A near epic collapse was pulled from the fire against UNC by an outstanding play at the end. The defense was soft, ad nauseum against Sun Belt and CUSA teams that pushed us to the brink. A last minute TD against USF, and an overtime interception against Cincinnati were needed to seal wins at home. Last week the defense was porous once again as Temple pushed its way to 255 rushing yards. Despite all of those things, we were able to find a way to win all of those games. To a degree, that is a testament to the players and coaches for sticking together, believing in one another, and finding ways to win. To a degree, no more,... no less.
It's hard to sit here now, after seeing that scene unfold in the Carrier Dome, and say that those close wins were not also signs that this team had a lot of growing up to do; a lot of improvements to make before they are legitimately elite. I use the word legitimately, not because I don't believe in their potential, but because there is always room for self examination and improvement. This team has been wonderful to watch and cheer for, but there is more room there for improvement than allows for me to say they are elite. Finish with a BCS win over a top10 team, and my tune will certainly change.
In all of those games, against teams with a combined win total of 28-54, the breaks and turn overs went our way. Today those things didn't go our way against a team that had put up big numbers all year, but couldn't stop giving the ball away. It was a team with, probably, the best QB/ WR/ RBs that we'd seen all year. They were loaded with seniors, they were fighting towards bowl eligibility, and they didn't give us the ball, not once.
It was a day of reckoning in the Carrier Dome; but that's okay. If you've stayed with me this far, follow for just a few more paragraphs and I'll tell you why.
This is still a relatively young team, especially on defense. Today, that defense was missing two very good pass rushers and It showed. The offense did enough to win, just as that unit had done all year long. Coaches and players will say that you win and lose as a team; but in reality that is just football speak for, "we're not going to let one player/ unit be blamed for a loss." The fact is, the defense and special teams have been sub-par all year. Charlie and some of the other coaches and players have said as much. We all went along for the first nine games saying that we would rather learn from a win than to learn from a loss. While it's been better for the record, I don't think that the actual learning of lessons has accompanied the close wins.
There were plenty of close wins that could have been learning experiences. There were plenty of games where the defense and special teams very well could have been pointed to as the primary reasons for a loss, but, well,.... Teddy and the offense did enough to get those wins. Whatever message the coaches have been preaching, whatever lessons were there to be learned, just haven't gotten through the way they should have. I don't know what that message has been. I make that statement with the hope that after today, and two weeks to prepare for UConn, that the sting of a loss,... the opening of a wound that only a performance like that could open, will allow that message to be absorbed.
The Road to a BCS Berth
Time to press the reset button and take stock of who and what we are. In reality, this is a program that is probably about a year ahead of schedule in terms of win totals. Charlie Strong has said as much in recent press conferences by eluding to the fact that he was shocked we were 9-0, or saying that we didn't look like an 8-0 football team at the beginning of the Temple game last week. A softer than expected schedule, and a fair share of good breaks, helped us get to that point. There is nothing wrong with that; but how does a young group learn or even believe that they're vulnerable unless they see it, feel it, and have it eat away at them for a week or two?
Take care of business against UConn and this group is right where everyone thought they would be before the season started. Playing on National Television, in Piscataway, for the Big East title and a place in a BCS Bowl game.
Here it is, guys:
Note: This race is basically down to Louisville, Rutgers, and Cincinnati. Syracuse is a long shot, but they do have a shot. Syracuse is currently 4-2 in the league, they have already lost to Rutgers and Cincinnati. This means the Orange need to beat Temple for a 5-2 finish. Then, they need the Cards lose to UConn, Rutgers to finish with three straight losses, and Cincinnati to lose at least two of its last three. In sum, they hold only one tie breaker with another contender, this makes them an extreme long shot.
Best case scenario: The simplest way for Louisville to make a BCS bowl game is by taking care of business in the final two games. We still control our own destiny; Point blank, period. Rutgers could curb stomp Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in its next two games for all we care, and we still win the league if we beat the Huskies and take care of business in New Jersey.
Not so good Scenario (assuming we beat UConn and don't beat Rutgers):
Rutgers plays Cincinnati next weekend. We want Cincinnati to win that game, then lose to to either USF or UConn, but not both. We also want Rutgers to lose the following week at Pitt. Why? Because, that brings us into the finale with the potential to lose, and still grab a bid to a BCS bowl game. That scenario gives Rutgers and Cincinnati two league losses. Then, the worst that can happen, if we don't get a win in Piscataway, is a three way tie for the league title. If that happens, just like last year, the BCS berth goes to the team with the highest BCS ranking. Got all that? No?
Here is why (Again all of the following scenarios assume that we beat UConn):
- Louisville (4-1): UConn, @Rutgers
- Rutgers (4-0): @Cincinnati, @Pitt, Louisville
- Cincinnati (3-1): Rutgers, USF, @UConn
- Rutgers coming into the finale 6-0 means a win against the Cards gives them a perfect league record and everyone else has already lost a game. They win the league.
- If Rutgers comes into the finale 5-1, with the one loss against Pitt, that means Cincinnati is eliminated by virtue of having two league losses because the winner of our game with Rutgers will win the league by finishing 6-1 ahead of everyone else. If we lose to Rutgers in this scenario,.. it's bad business. There is a possibility that we will be sitting there at 5-2, tied with Syracuse, and they hold the tie breaker. Meaning we could finish third in the league (I'd rather drink turpentine and piss on a brush fire than type that again).
- Rutgers coming into the finale with a record of 4-2 means that even if they beat us, we will have the same league record of 5-2. However, they would still hold the tie breaker against us,... which is why we also want Cincinnati to have a 5-2 league record. Not a 4-3 league record. We don't care if we finish with the same record as Cincinnati because we have the tie breaker (Teddy > Munchie).
Again, assuming we beat UConn, if we end the year 5-2 in the Big East,... that will mean we lost to Rutgers. That will mean that they hold the head to head tie breaker against us; and if Cincinnati finishes 4-3,.... then Rutgers wins the league. The best case scenario is to just win the last two games, but if that doesn't happen, we still have a chance with a little help.
Here's what you're cheering for: Rutgers losing at Cincinnati, and at Pittsburgh,.. plus Cincinnati losing one of its other two games against USF, and at UConn, but not both!
Beat UConn, Beat Rutgers, Beat whoever the Slapd*^%s in charge of the BCS selections match you up with.