Time marches inexorably forward, and the
2015-2016 Cardinal sports regular season is, finally, mercifully, almost upon us. Comparing last year's preview to the post-season wrap up, well, there's certainly a different feel. Only 5 games are on each list, which shows how trying to predict these games is like trying to predict the weather for Derby in April. And the later list includes post-season games, which generally become a proxy for how a season is, at least in the immediate short term, viewed. But as fun as the season was, there were a lot of rough games.
I started off that preview post last season with my favorite quote from my favorite book ("Whatever you life is Life.") and should have ended the wrap up post with another great quote from All The King's Men: "It might have been all different, Jack. You got to believe that."
Last season had so many close, statistical improbability losses that it really could have been different. You got to believe that, Cards fans, or you wouldn't be as excited about this season as you are.
Because objectively speaking, the ceiling is simply lower this season in both men's basketball and football, and recent success aside, there isn't as much excitement about baseball or women's basketball seasons as those teams probably warrant. We are replacing numerous beloved, now-professional athletes in basketball and football, and our schedule in both sports is objectively tougher than last season in both as well. Also, there's no "at Notre Dame" on this year's football schedule, no major non-conference game at home, and Tallahassee is not quite as hospitable a destination as Clemson. With far fewer "firsts" than last year, this year's schedule is more about the quality of the opponent and importance of the outcome than last year's list.
Still, it might all be different this year. We have to believe. As a more modern southern writer put it in words Jack Burden himself would have approved, we should keep on dreaming, even if it breaks our hearts.
10. UNC Basketball - Big Monday Game on ESPN, Feb. 1, 2016
Our games with them last season were both classics (refusing to acknowledge the ACC tournament game), and UNC promises to be really good again. While the pure novelty of playing against UNC may be gone, any time you can host UNC on Big Monday at the Yum! Center promises to be a great atmosphere. UNC always gets a "Gentleman's 6" preseason ranking regardless of the evidence, so by February we'll see where they are ranked. Still, will be great. Also, unlike last year, there are really not a ton of great regular season games. Big Monday! Here's a classic Big Monday game:
9. UVA Basketball - Home/Home - Whenever They Are
This is slotted just a spot higher than UNC because it's actually two games and this team will be a lot better than UNC. If UVA basketball was worth getting excited about at all these games would be higher. They are our cross-divisional rival! They are preseason favorites! They will be a top 5 team both games probably! Still, meh. Just can't get excited about how these games actually go. Maybe the new shot clock will change things.
8. UK Football - November 28, 2015
Ugh, not these guys again. I will say, the chart that was going around Twitter last week (which means you'll catch it on Facebook in a few weeks and your friends from work will talk about it a couple weeks after that) showing the "Wins Per Arrest" over the last five years is the best response to both the "UofL wins with thugs" and the "UofL wins because they are in an easy league" canards so popular on message boards. Which, by the way, stay off the message boards. But big props to Clint Hurtt for landing Jawan Pass and all the other talent in the 2015 and 2016 classes.
I guess it's unfair to make this season's epigraph "It might have been all different, Jack. You got to believe that" and then bring up the UK football fan base, considering their well-known belief that THIS is the year when it's all going to be different. Maybe this is finally the year they beat us. Being "excited" about this game seems a little like the wrong word. We should win, because we should win, but I mean, it would be much nicer to get this win out of the way in Week 1 and not have to hear about it for the the next 4 months.
There's a lot of dread in this post, I'm realizing. So here's DeVante Parker:
7. Speaking of Dread
You know what goes here. We play UK at Rupp Arena in December. You probably knew this, and you probably know how this game is going to go, and you probably know how the message boards are going to go afterwards. Again, do you realize how much fun we are having?
7. Pitt games whenever they are I'm not even going to look them up
Because then I get to write another one of those meta-previews!
6. Duke Basketball - Cameron Indoor Stadium
Maybe should be higher based on the "first time playing there" metric. I'm hopeful that the image of all of those kids making weird synchronized hand gestures and chants at a bewildered Matz Stockman will be funny enough to keep me into this game because this is a tough place to win, a tough place to get a fair whistle, a tough place to watch any team, much less your favorite, go and play. But now we get to do it at least every other year which is great, and this will be a big-time game. Pitino's teams have played better on the road, and getting a win in this game would be near the top of the non-UK regular season wins over the past decade. Really should be higher, who approved this list?
5. Michigan State Basketball - At East Lansing, Michigan
My original draft also had this game much higher, but the more I thought about it, I mean, does this change anything if we win? Wait, we get to make t-shirts retroactively putting us in the Final Four? Cool! I'm in!
MSU, like us, seems to struggle early in the season before coming on strong late (I just shook my head again IRL because of all of the missed chances in that second half. Then again when I thought about the game 6 Marches later). This game will make the Virginia football game look pretty. But it will be a good chance early in the season to get some buzz. Hey maybe a big win will showcase our exciting style of basketball and the ability to reach a national platform to top-10 recruits!
4. FSU Football - at Tallahassee, Florida - Oct. 17, 2015
The path to wherever the ACC championship game is this season runs through Tallahassee, and FSU seems vulnerable. They still have all of the super fast athletes who ran free on the field turf at PJCS last season, ready to turn edge rushes into touchdowns. But they don't have the magic that allowed them to score on a butt fumble, recover their own interception for a nice gain, or turn another interception into a walk-into-the-endzone touchdown. I don't link any of those because you all know exactly which miracles I am talking about. By this point in the season, we will have a much better idea how big this game really is because of the next two games on this list. And maybe we'll have a good idea if FSU's luck was buried out there in the desert by a marauding pack of ducks, or if it just had trouble with the jet lag and will be rested and ready, waiting to make the wrong play at the right time in Florida in October. Or if it was Jameis all along. Regardless of the standings, FSU will get our best shot and I'm excited about this game.
3. Auburn Football - At Atlanta - Sept. 5, 2015
This game has some arguments for the top spot: it's the first game of it all, and the excitement about the whole season has a way of forcing itself into the first game bottle. It's an SEC power 2 years of a championship appearance, and, if the pundits are to be believed, the most likely team to represent the SEC in the Playoff this season. And don't forget the uniforms, my God, the uniforms.
But the rational fan in me does not think we will win this game. Not that we CAN'T, just that we WON'T.
If the rational fan in me does not expect to win, the rationalizing fan in me is okay with this: this win doesn't affect the ACC standings, and a good showing in a closer-than-expected loss to a team that wins the SEC, combined with us winning out in the ACC, I mean, that puts us right in the discussion at the end there, right? So, like, I'm excited for this game, but similar to the Florida Sugar Bowl game - short of getting blown out, which I don't see happening unless it's a couple of garbage scores at the end, there's a lot of upside to this game and very little downside.
Anyway, I'll still be there, with one of my best friends who is an Auburn fan, sitting in an Auburn-heavier area, a nervous wreck the whole game, and quietly fist pumping big plays and building up Auburn's offense into, well, Auburn's best possible offense the entire week leading up to the game. The irrational fan in me puts this game as #1 because it's next and it's Auburn and it means the season is finally f--king here.
2. Clemson Tigers - at PJCS - Thursday Sept. 17, 2015
The rational fan wins out, and this game is both way more important to the season's outcome and also will be a crazy awesome atmosphere. While it really would be nice to get a big Saturday night home game and host Gameday one of these years, the Thursday night Big Game at PJCS is a staple of the college football season, like it or not. The Derby is not won in the first turn, but this game certainly will affect the order in the home stretch.
If you are still reading you know why this game is here. And since I'm not sure if I'll be able to do a full football preview or even Auburn game preview, here are my basic thoughts on those subjects:
This is one of the most talented and experienced teams we've ever had, and yet we could easily be 1-2 or 0-3 to start the season. Let's all remember that no matter what, we get to play in the ACC next year, so it's okay to have a season like one that is certainly possible to have here. Our defense is going to be really, really good. Our offense has the chance to be better than last year, but offensive line and QB and WR are all still question marks. We have justifiable excitement about those spots, but, whatever our offense is this year, it will definitely be different than last year and will not be the high-flying-50-point-per-game teams of myth. We will almost certainly be run-heavy, play-action heavy, and, if Reggie is the starter, see a lot of zone read. With Quick working the slot and a couple of guys on the outside who can hopefully just get open, we will hopefully be able to control the clock in our bigger games. Hopefully.
Looking at the schedule, Clemson, Auburn, FSU are the hardest 3, NC State and UK are the next hardest in terms of both talent and schedule-factors, and the other 7 games are ones we should probably win just based on how good we are and how good our opponents are.
The difference between 7-5 and 11-1 will come down to whether we can get over the hump against those top 3 teams and whether we can avoid a dumb loss (like last year's UVA game), which, honestly, you should go ahead and pencil in a dumb loss every year with every college football team because that's the point of college football. That's the whole point!
Anyway, I think 8-4 is a safe prediction pretty much every season until we prove we can beat Clemson/FSU more than 1 year in a row. This season is no different. Buy a ticket, enjoy the ride. If we somehow win in Atlanta, the Clemson game will be one of the best atmospheres ever at PJCS. Even if we don't, this will be a big game.
1. Duke - Yum! Center - Sometime in 2016
Defending champions, top 5 team, ACC standings. I missed last season's game because I was out of town, so this has a higher spot for me than Clemson in terms of personal experience excitement. Either way, this is the most exciting game of the 2015-16 Louisville men's basketball and football season.
The 2012-13 season had that feel that something special was going to happen: Mike wrote the Winnie the Pooh honey post and absolutely nailed it. We had the Year of the Cardinal. The last two seasons have been awesome by any objective measure, yet neither matched the year before it. It's impossible to say whether this season will, or really, any other season ever will. What we did that year was so hard and it's unfair to expect any season to ever match up. That's what made it so special. And this season doesn't quite have that same feel: we know we are good, but this doesn't seem like it's going to be The Year.
But I'm still excited for it, because it sure might be.