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Charlie Strong Embraces Preseason Hype, But Doesn't Buy Into It

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There has been no in between period as far as Big East expectations during the Charlie Strong era at Louisville are concerned.

After being picked to finish last or second-to-last in the conference in each of his first two seasons as the Cardinals front man, Strong was informed Tuesday morning that his team is now overwhelming favorite to capture the Big East championship.

His reaction?

"Seriously? What have we done?"

The party line was obvious and consistent from the Cardinal contingent in Newport: you didn't buy into the preseason predictions before so there's no reason to buy into them now.

The fact that Tuesday's theme was so predictable doesn't make it any less necessary. Louisville returns 17 starters from last season's Big East co-championship squad, but boasts just 12 seniors.

Then there's also the matter of these preseason expectations coming after a season in which the Cardinals lost six games - including home defeats to Marshall and Florida International - and did not win their bowl game. These are facts that the impressionable sophomore and juniors who will be relied upon so heavily in 2012 might need to be reminded of throughout fall camp.

"The issue is going to be leadership," Strong said. "Any time you are picked to win the league, you have become a junior-senior team. We have not become a junior-senior team. We are still a very young football team."

The talk was similar from the three Cardinal media day representatives - Hakeem Smith, Mario Benavides and Alex Kupper - none of whom appeared willing to stray from the instructed theme.

Still, Strong and company wouldn't go so far as to say they didn't welcome the preseason hype.

Louisville's conference affiliation has started to hurt the program a bit recently on the recruiting trail, and a Big East championship and subsequent BCS bowl appearance would do wonders for the program's national reputation. A reputation which has been significantly diminished since its Orange Bowl win in 2007.

"We need this program to grab the national spotlight," Strong said. "We need to make people say 'wow.'"

It'd also be a nice little present for the fans and everyone else affiliated with the program who never saw the post-'06 slide coming, something Strong is also very aware of.

"What is happening in Louisville is that 2006 is the last time we went to the Orange Bowl. Now they're looking back to ‘06, hoping that will occur again. That's good. It's great excitement for the fans. Most of the time fans are looking for bragging rights. Now they have those bragging rights."

Justified or not, the expectations are back in Louisville. Strong's mission now is to make sure they breed enthusiasm, and not complacency.