Six years ago, an ACC team came to town in week three for a nationally televised game on ABC that energized the entire city. That team had suffered a painful loss the week prior, but was still loaded with NFL talent and presented a key opportunity for Louisville football to make a large impression on the rest of the country.
I don't need to go into any more details because everyone still remembers that game. And that's the thing, everyone still remembers that game.
Detractors love to point out that the '06 Miami team Louisville walloped on that Sept. afternoon went on to finish the season 7-6. The coaching turmoil, the fact that they only lost one other game by more than seven points, the fact that they ended up winning a bowl game; none of those details really matter. The story on that day became became Louisville, and the ripples from the wave made by that performance were enough to help carry the program to new heights over the course of the succeeding weeks.
It's six years later and the nation is once again wondering just how good a Cardinal football team actually is.
North Carolina will walk into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium with a team that includes at least three potential first round NFL draft picks, but with the sting of a one-point loss to Wake Forest still reverberating.
And again, none of that will matter.
The people who will be tuning into ABC tomorrow starting at 3:30 will mostly be doing so because they want to see Louisville play. U of L/North Carolina is the only game of any real intrigue on during that slot, so the number of people participating in this activity figures to be relatively high.
Regardless of what UNC does the rest of the season, a win over the Tar Heels by any margin is unlikely to launch Louisville into the middle of the national championship race the way the trouncing of Miami did. It will, however, stick the Cardinals straight into the heart of the national conversation, a place they'll stay until defeat is tasted for the first time.
Basically, this is the opportunity Charlie Strong, his coaches and his players have been working three years for.
The Beef O' Brady's Bowl win in 2010 and the share of the Big East title last season were tremendous accomplishments, mostly because they were program-building steps that people didn't expect to be taken so quickly. Now that they have, however, they're not going to be celebrated with that same level of enthusiasm again.
What's at stake with the nation watching Saturday afternoon is the opportunity to take another giant step forward. While a loss by no means ruins the season, it does put a hint of doubt in the collective mind of the college football world that won't be erased by a string of wins over teams that are viewed as inferior. A win will demand serious and extended attention. A defeat guarantees that attention won't come anytime soon.
This is the same chance that everyone associated with the Louisville football program had been waiting for up until 2006, and the chance we've all been waiting for since that season. It's time to savor and then seize the moment.