Being the guy after the guy (who lost big) after the guy (who won big) is the best gig in college sports.
For starters, you're walking into a program which has proven, somewhat recently, that it possesses all the ingredients necessary for a high level of success. On top of that, you have a fan base humbled enough to not expect major accomplishments right off the bat, but so hungry to return to their halcyon days that the slightest hint of such an arrival being imminent will send them into a frenzy.
Take, for example, the case of Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.
When Strong was introduced as the new front man for Cardinal football on Dec. 9, 2009, it had been less than three years since Louisville fans had taken over the sandy shores of South Beach to celebrate perhaps the program's defining victory. The three succeeding seasons under Steve Kragthorpe, however, had made that evening feel like it had been three decades ago.
In his first two seasons on the job, Strong has led U of L to an overall record of 14-12, taken the Cards to a pair of bowl games (with one win) and pulled in a handful of elite recruits.
The result? He's God.
The tone of this site is generally in line with the prevailing climate of Card Nation as a whole, so the fact that Strong was named "Card Chronicle Man of the Year" at the end of both 2010 and 2011 is telling. At no other point over the past two decades would back-to-back 7-6 records garner Louisville's head football coach such a distinction.
A six-loss season in 2012 would only assure that the honor will belong to someone else come December.
For the Louisville football program, expectations are back for the first time since 2007. For Strong, they're here for the first time. And it isn't as if the head man has eased his way into this desired position.
Louisville has been picked to finish last or tied for last in the Big East in each of Strong's first two seasons on the job. When the official preseason poll is released later this summer, it will be the Cards pegged as the conference's champion and BCS representative.
No time for a toe in the water. Strong's being hoisted out of the poolside lounge chair and tossed in the deep end before he can even save his cell phone from a premature death by chlorine.
Louisville fans aren't doing anything to temper expectations. In fact, they're doing the exact opposite.
After half a decade with the program closer to FCS relegation than a national ranking, this type of frenzy shouldn't have been that hard to predict. The question is whether or not this overwhelming sentiment is justified.
Are Louisville fans right in believing that this will be the season that shifts the program back onto the right side of the national conversation? Or is this merely the product of a fan base too desperate for an immediate return to its abandoned place of prominence; a former addict incapable of handling their first whiff of the stuff in five years?
Without diving deeper into the waters than early July will allow, let's explore.
Overhyped - They're Still Remarkably Young
Relying on talented sophomores at key positions (quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, safety, linebacker) is wonderful when you're talking about the future of the program. It's not as great when the conversation shifts to immediate success in the season ahead.
Louisville has a remarkably gifted and experienced group of sophomores and juniors, but remarkably gifted and experienced sophomores and juniors are still more likely to fall into the trap of believing their own hype than any form of senior. Regardless of how mature an underclassmen is, the weight of expectation is always going to be lighter when the comfort of having at least one more season to play is present.
U of L's current official roster lists just 12 seniors on the team. The absence of strength in numbers will put that much more pressure on the leadership roles of guys like Mario Benavides, Alex Kupper, Will Stein and Andrell Smith. If they don't properly convey to the youngsters how crucial each snap is, then the team will lose a game or two it had no business dropping.
Properly Hyped - Louisville Fans Aren't The Only Ones Saying This
Athlon, Rivals, Lindy's, Blue Ribbon and The Sporting News are among the publications or networks which have released a preseason top 25 featuring the mighty Cardinals.
How it can it be overhyping if you're just repeating the same things everyone else is saying?
Overhyped - Lack Of A Standout A Running Back
Louisville heads into the fall with the luxury of having four talented backs who will all compete for the lion's share of carries on Sept. 2. On the flip side, the reason they're all still competing is that none of them could responsibly be referred to as a star.
Dominique Brown has the size and skill to fit that description, but too often last season he looked like a player still learning how to play running back (which he is); often missing holes and unnecessarily dancing around before geting to the line of scrimmage.
After a breakout freshman season, Jeremy Wright was the player most expected to be U of L's unquestioned feature back by now, but his propensity for fumbling seems to have inched uncomfortably close to the forefront of his mind. If he can shake that illness in the same manner Bilal Powell did two seasons ago, then Cards fans can expect number similar to Powell's.
There's no question that Senorise Perry and Corvin Lamb have tremendous speed, but outside of that both are still largely a mystery. Perry's 12 carries last season are the only ones the duo have between them.
Properly Hyped - The Schedule
I think it's safe to say that the vast, vast majority of Louisville fans predicting double-digit wins this season are aware that they wouldn't be doing so if the Cards played in the Big 12 or SEC.
There's a reason U of L is almost universally being picked to win the Big East but might not begin the season ranked in the top 25: the Big East isn't going to be very good.
Gone are the days of a guaranteed game against a nationally-ranked West Virginia team, and Georgia's backing out the home-and-home deal two years ago ensured that the non-conference schedule would be void of any ineludible buzz. The result is 12 games where, as it currently stands, Louisville might be the favorite in each.
Overhyped - The Schedule
Louisville's non-conference schedule is the worst kind of non-conference schedule: the deceptively difficult one. It's a schedule filled with teams that the Cards won't get a lot of credit for beating, but ones which could all easily spring upsets if U of L drums up just a few ill-timed miscues.
Everyone expects Kentucky to be even worse than usual this season, which makes facing the Cats in a rivalry game to start the season not the sexiest of scenarios (think 2005 in Lexington). Then there's North Carolina, a team which brings in a new head coach, but also brings back enough talent for Phil Steele to peg them to win the ACC's Coastal Division.
Like UNC, Florida International defeated U of L a year ago. If that weren't enough, the Panthers will be hosting the tilt this go-round and it will be nationally televised, meaning the Cards will again be facing an FIU team looking to make good on its moment in the spotlight. And then there's Southern Miss, a solid program which still considers Louisville a rival and which would love to thump the Cards at home in another nationally televised game.
These four games coupled with a full slate of Big East opponents that the Cards haven't exactly dominated since joining the conference provide more than enough justification for not penciling Louisville in as a ten-game winner before the season even starts.
Properly Hyped - Teddy Bridgewater
Have you seen him play? Have you heard him speak?
Bridgewater's level of talent, intelligence and maturity completely counteracts the fact that he's only a sophomore. The kid is a straight superstar who is poised to be the face of Cardinal football for at least the next two years.
That most difficult of steps from "promising underclassmen" to "college star" will be taken this season.
Overhyped - Special Teams Questions
As of this moment, Louisville has no place kicker, no punter and no kickoff specialist. They were also one of the worst teams in the country last season when it came to returning punts.
In two seasons under Strong, the Cards have only lost one game by double digits. These are the types of things that determine the outcomes of single score games and the ones which can keep you from claiming a conference title that should have been yours.
Properly Hyped - Charlie Friggin' Strong
Rutherford types while simultaneously chucking his objective hat out the window...where it will instantly burst into flames and be lost forever.