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Lack Of Hype Is Fitting As Louisville Football Starts New Era

Kevin C. Cox

Around this time a year ago, Louisville football was dealt a preseason top 10 ranking for the first time in program history. Despite that team going 12-1 and winning a bowl game, this year's Cardinals were nowhere to be found when the 2014 edition of the USA Today preseason coaches' poll was released last week.

The shock wasn't that UofL -- a program which lost its head coach, All-American quarterback and two other first round NFL Draft picks during the offseason -- was left out of the top 25, it was more about the amount of distance between Bobby Petrino's team and the poll's final slot.

Louisville received a total of 32 votes from the group of FBS coaches selected at random to serve as the poll's panel, the 11th most of any team outside the preseason top 25. So basically, the Cardinals are your unofficial preseason No. 36 for 2014. The 32 votes were also notable for being nine fewer than the number cast for perennial national laughingstock (and new ACC brethren) Duke, and 13 fewer than the Miami team UofL eviscerated 36-9 in the most recent contest for both teams.

The preseason ACC poll voted on by members of the league's media was barely kinder to the Cardinals. UofL was picked to finish a distant third behind Florida State and Clemson in the Atlantic Division, and the 564 total votes they received were just the 7th-most in the conference. On the individual side of things, wide receiver DeVante Parker was the only Louisville player named as a preseason All-ACC honoree.

Suffice it to say, the "can they go undefeated" talk that dominated the offseasons of 2005, 2006 and 2013 has been more scarce than hooded sweatshirts and Asher Roth this summer. There is no one predicting that Louisville will crash the first college football playoff, and there's certainly no debate over whether or not the Cardinals should run up the score on their opponents in order to garner more national respect.

As Louisville stares the dawn of a new era directly in the face, you almost can't help but feel like this is how it should be. I think that's because, for the most part, this is how it's always been.

Louisville isn't supposed to be here -- and I mean that in just about the broadest sense possible. When Tom Jurich arrived at UofL in 1997, he was dealing with a potential league relocation then too. Only it wasn't on his terms. Conference USA was trying to kick the Cards to the curb.

"The biggest break this university got was Mike Slive not kicking it out of C-USA," Jurich told CBS Sports back in 2013. "The presidents and ADs had all had enough of Louisville. I think there were lawsuits and everything, trying to get Louisville out of the league."

Since that odd time, UofL has won two BCS games and achieved three top 10 finishes in football. C-USA, meanwhile, is now a league headlined by the likes of North Texas and Middle Tennessee. The fact that the conference once thought it was too good for Louisville is a nice reminder of just how swift and remarkable the evolution of the program has been. That same evolution has made it hard to remember just how arduous it has been to be a Louisville football fan for the bulk of the program's existence.

Forget the struggles of the '90s or the horror of the Steve Kragthorpe era, we are just three decades removed from a time when the brass at UofL considered both moving the football program to Division-II and dropping the program altogether. In the early 1980s, it was far more likely that Louisville football wasn't going to exist in 30 years than it was that the Cards would be a well-regarded national name preparing to host conference clashes against the likes of Miami and Florida State.

Even when the program found stability in the post-Howard Schnellenberger era, there weren't too many folks daydreaming about stunning a third-ranked Florida team in the Sugar Bowl or preparing their eyes to see the Cards run out onto the field inside Notre Dame Stadium. As a '90s kid, my most prominent childhood memories of Louisville football involve looking forward to the "showdowns" with Southern Miss, praying for the privilege to nearly freeze to death at the Liberty Bowl, and rooting for Shaun King and Tulane to run up the score on the Cards so that Ron Cooper might be sent packing. That's where we were, and it was far from the program's lowest point.

Louisville staring down its first run in the ACC while coming off of back-to-back double-digit win seasons is about the closest thing to a legitimate college football miracle as there is. It'd almost feel wrong if the odds weren't stacked against the Cards as they begin the next chapter of their story.

This column appears in this week's issue off The Voice-Tribune