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Louisville's National Outlook: First Week Jitters

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Andy Lyons

It felt good to be a part of something special Monday night. For the first time in its short, but storied history, Louisville took the field in a season opener offering national championship implications. Louisville wasn't perfect, and honestly they didn't have to be. The Cardinals were bigger, faster, stronger, and better than their five time national champion counterpart. Premier football has arrived in the Ville, and three letters have finally given Louisville the legitimacy it has earned, and deserved for almost a quarter century.

I am sure I wasn't alone this weekend celebrating the return of college football by sticking my nose in a television for the better part of Labor Day weekend. The games were entertaining, the final outcomes rather predictable, and the takeaway was fairly obvious. 2014 should be the most competitive season college football has seen in quite some time.

As of week one, there doesn't appear to be a team boasting superior talent coupled with the absence of flaws. From top to bottom of the rankings, there were causes for concern with every team I was able to watch. If there ever was a year to have a college playoff, the football gods sure smiled upon the fanatics by blessing us with 2014. First week jitters struck a lot of top ranked teams, and as always, preseason polls prove their worthlessness.

Florida State looked slightly vulnerable on the offensive line, and several holes were wide open in the middle of their defense. Even Famous "Crab Legs" Jameis looked mortal in his return to the gridiron. Alabama showcased an obvious weakness at quarterback, and adding to the fury of Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide secondary proved attackable yet again. Ohio State seems to be rebuilding on the go after losing their quarterback for the season. South Carolina could have left their defense on the sideline and probably given up less yards and points to Texas A&M. Clemson has the same problems on defense (giving up 40+ point to legitimate opponents), and losing Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins seems to have placed Dabo Sweeny and the Tigers into a rebuilding year.  Wisconsin might claim the worst starting quarterback in the power five conferences. Todd Gurley of Georgia is your current Heisman favorite, and lastly, Kevin Sumlin is a good football coach and will be better off without Johnny Manziel.

Where does Louisville sit after week one? First week jitters struck the Cardinals as well, but they got better as the game trudged on, and the Red and Black was at their best in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. How could Louisville not be nervous and anxious Monday night? Coach Petrino admitted he had never been more nervous for a game in his career, and the Cardinals had zero experience in starting the season in such a spotlight with so much riding on the outcome. Expectations were high, nerves could be felt through every one of the 55,000 in attendance, and the Cardinals delivered a victory in their first taste of "big boy" football. UofL is a contender for the championship, period.

The best part of Monday, Louisville didn't play their "A" game on offense and special teams, and they still secured a conference victory by 18 points. Throughout the summer, my concern was never the defense. James Sample (beast) and a few others aside, every player who took the field on defense Monday night played in almost every game a season ago. There were leaders and NFL talent spread all over the field. Those kids know how to hit, they know how to wrap, they have the speed, and they understand the value of getting off the field on third down.

I knew the defense was good, I didn't know they would be so impressive. That unit performed how a championship defense is expected to. The Cardinal D picked up the offense with game changing plays when momentum shifted, they covered for any and all offensive and special teams mistakes, and most impressively, they gave up only one third down conversion in 60 minutes of football.

Coach Petrino is still the offensive genius we all grew to love and cherish, and Will Gardner has the ability to make all the plays comprising an elite quarterback. Last night, Will played in a high level football game and was tackled by real opponents for basically the first time in three years. The kid was nervous, missed a few open receivers, was let down by a few drops, but in the fourth quarter he was in complete command delivering every time his number was called. In a matter of 60 minutes, Gardner's confidence went from shaky rookie to seasoned veteran, and the future is bright here at Quarterback U. Remember folks, Gardner played without his best running back, and his first round draft pick wide receiver.

In other news, Dominique Brown was phenomenal, and the offensive line was unstoppable late in the fourth quarter as Louisville held the ball for nearly nine minutes in a beautiful drive to secure victory. Gerald Christian proved to be the most reliable target for Gardner; that kid is special and will be a top drafted tight end.

Louisville delivered Monday night, and made a statement that they are a legitimate playoff contender. The Cardinals didn't play according to the script written before kickoff, but after the 31-13 slugfest, Cardinal fans are fine with improvisation. Every national pundit discounted the Cardinal defense for eight months, which should allow this victory to taste even sweeter. Louisville football, and its brand-new-old-head coach conquered first week jitters and sit atop the ACC. Louisville has arrived, and America, Monday night was just the beginning.

All Hail UofL!!