Befuddled and disappointed, my only two sentiments about Louisville's loss to Florida State. In what felt like the best offensive performance of the season, the Cardinal defense appeared disinterested, disheartened, and invisible for the final 30 minutes in Tallahassee and in doing so wasted a major step forward for Louisville's youth. Effort should never be questioned by the fans, coaches, media, or casual observers, but the Cardinal Defense put on an embarrassing display against the Seminoles. Whether it be attitude, effort, skill level, or injuries, the biggest hurdle facing our Cardinals as they try to take that next leap forward is depth.
When watching and enjoying the elite of college football, two things are always consistent: offensive and defensive lines stocked full of future NFL starters and a "next man up" policy is constantly implemented at every position. If a player goes down due to injury, poor play, ejection, or fatigue, the Alabama's, Ohio State's, Florida State's etc have an athlete ready and able to replace and replicate. These top programs always have their stars waiting in the wings, sometimes three deep at each position.
If you remove your Cardinal Fanaticism and the disgraceful missed tackles from the equation, substitutions were the most noticeable difference Saturday afternoon. Florida State was rotating strong and capable players throughout all four quarters on both sides of the football. Fatigue wasn't a concern and there wasn't a noticeable drop off at any point during the game. If a Seminole was injured or disappointed Coach Jimbo Fisher, he was instantly replaced without concerning consequence. In an ideal world, Harvey-Clemons, Fields, Washington, and several others would have been benched for their lack of hustle and commitment to winning. This isn't an ideal world and Louisville Football is in the midst of a major rebuild.
Since 2011, and according to Yahoo! Rivals, Florida State's recruiting classes have been ranked 2nd, 6th, 10th, 4th, and 3rd. Alabama has been 1st four times and 2nd once. Ohio State has been no slouch either compiling the 11th, 4th, 2nd, 3rd, and 9th best classes. Louisville's other conference Achilles heel Clemson has had classes ranked 8th, 14th twice, 13th, and 4th. Top talent is not the only solution, but these teams have won five of the last six titles and great players make great coaches.
Some people may disagree and others may not want to hear it, but Charlie Strong left Cardinal Football in quite a bind and clearly didn't recruit well beginning in 2012. Coach Strong had one foot out the door starting in 2012 and the result of his efforts are shining brightly in 2015. Louisville's 2012 class ranked 42nd and fell 10 spots in 2013 to 52nd overall when Louisville only signed 17 kids. 2012 and 2013 were Strong's final two classes. On Louisville's current roster, only 11 players remain from the 2012 class and just 13 remain from 2013. Also, only 17 of these players have contributed in 2015. Coach Petrino and his staff did a great job salvaging the 40th ranked class of 2014 and the Cardinals clearly had an underrated class in 2015 where they came in at 32nd nationally.
If Coach Strong would have been fully committed and invested in this program, our current team would be full of depth at most positions, including some of Louisville's most glaring weaknesses at offensive line and cornerback. Petrino and Co. have done their best to patch holes with transfers and junior college recruits, but these are short term fixes to season defining problems.
Louisville's goal is to stand toe to toe for 60 minutes with the titans of college football, but the only path to Cardinal greatness is compiling legitimate and skilled depth. Fortunately for Louisville, Coach Petrino has been out recruiting Coach Strong since day one and the Cardinals can currently claim the 18th best class in the country. A lot will happen between now and February's national signing day, but Louisville is on the right track and we have been dreaming since 2003 about what Coach Petrino could do with top ranked recruiting classes.
No one is satisfied with Louisville's 2-4 start and I doubt our head man is getting much sleep, but the combined record of Auburn, Clemson, FSU, and Houston is 22-2. The Cardinals are reloading and rebuilding, but are just a few plays from being 4-2 or 5-1. Lamar Jackson is improving immensely week to week and threw one of the prettiest touchdown passes I have ever seen Saturday afternoon. The offensive line played their best game of the year against its toughest competition and James Quick finally delivered in a big game against a big name opponent.
It is time for Louisville Fans to understand and appreciate the process, and realize that champions aren't born overnight. 2015 is a rebuilding year and an opportunity to lay a foundation for an era unlike any seen before. This group needs leadership and consistent effort, but more importantly our support. 8-4 is not out of the question this season and these youthful birds desperately need a bowl berth. The coaches will continue to adjust, improve, and put this team in a position to win, and equally vital, Coach Petrino and staff must continue to burn up the recruiting trail. Louisville Football is ready to chase championships, but right now the only difference is depth.
All Hail UofL !!