The significance of a potential Louisville win on Saturday was multi-layered and much deeper than simply "Florida State is really good and beating them would be cool." Whenever that's the case, it makes the flip side of that excitement coin even more difficult to stomach when it comes to a rest, stares you directly in the face and forces you to cope with its existence.
A young Louisville team went on the road and lost a game to an undefeated Florida State ranked in the top 10. Toss in the facts that Seminoles had not been beaten at home in 18 games or by an ACC foe in 28 tilts, and it makes it seem like the Cardinal's performance in Tallahassee should be stinging far less than it is this Monday afternoon.
So why the lingering hurt? Why the persistent mixture of anger, disappointment and fear as we should be turning our attention to Boston College?
Here's what I think is the worst part of this moment right now: U of L's 2015 football season no longer has the potential to be "special." It can still be significant, sure, and it can even still be successful, but special is out the window. Whenever those wild preseason dreams that you harbored during the summer months have officially evaporated, it's a difficult reality to face.
Louisville is not going to contend for an ACC championship in 2015, the Cardinals are not going to win double digit games, and they're not going to beat any of the marquee names on this year's schedule. Being forced to process all of that information with still half the season to play (or more than half if U of L plays in a bowl) is a tall and undesirable order.
So that's the disappointment we're all feeling. Here's where the fear comes into play: On Saturday, Louisville lost a regular season game by 20 points for the first time since the final game of the Steve Kragthorpe era -- a 34-14 defeat at the hands of Rutgers on Nov. 27, 2009. Not many people expected the Cards to return from Tallahassee with a victory, but most everyone expected them to come close, especially after they carried a lead into the second half. The fact that the game unraveled so completely and that there appeared to be at least handful of instances of questionable effort has more than a few Cardinal fans worried about the second half of the season playing out in a similar fashion.
Plenty of people expected Louisville to be 3-3 at this point in the season, some even accurately tabbed the Cards at 2-4. No one, at least that I saw or heard, had U of L finishing at 4-8 or 5-7 and missing the postseason. To prove those prognosticators correct, this group of Cardinals is going to need to bond together immediately and discover a sense of pride that was difficult to detect for much of the second half on Saturday.
I think referring to the six weeks ahead of this Louisville football team as "damage control" is over-the-top, but making sure the 2015 season doesn't spiral into a catastrophe that leaves fans questioning the direction of things has become one of the offshoots of the Cardinals achieving their goals for the rest of the season.
Since before the season even got started, I've compared this campaign to Charlie Strong's second year back in 2011, when he decided to throw a large number of freshmen and sophomore (including a true frosh at quarterback) into the fire and see what they were made of. That team started 2-4 before the lightbulb came on near the end of October. The result of that season wound up being a share of the Big East title, a trip to a solid bowl game to face a good opponent, and the promise of great things being on the horizon. A year later, Louisville won the Sugar Bowl.
Now every time I've compared this year's team to that one I've included a pair of caveats. First, this year's team is far more talented and experienced than the 2011 squad was on the defensive side of the ball. Second, the 2015 Cards are playing a much more difficult schedule than the one Strong and company faced in year two.
If there's a third major difference between the two campaigns it's this: expectations are much higher. Louisville is now six years removed from its most recent bowl-less season, not two. The Cardinals have a head coach who has already proven he can have success at the highest level, not one who everyone is just hoping might be great. With this being the case, people aren't going to celebrate a 6-6 or 7-5 campaign attached to the promise of better things to come with the same vigor that they did in 2010 or 2011.
Is that fair to the young men who still have at least six games to suit up in red and black for? Probably not, but now is the time for these guys to learn how to shut off all the outside noise anyway. They still have five conference games to play, a road test against a top 25 opponent, a rivalry game against Kentucky, and then, hopefully, a bowl game to get ready for.
Nobody associated with Louisville football wants to be where the Cards are at the halfway point of the 2015 season. The next month and-a-half is huge when it comes to making sure we aren't here again any time soon.