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Louisville football ready to sail into uncharted waters

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

When you've written about Louisville Cardinal athletics as a fan for, say, 10 years or so, there are certain stories or themes that you get accustomed to covering.

"It's NCAA Tournament time, and Rick Pitino has a team capable of making a run."

"This latest result proves that bigger things are on the way for Louisville football."

"That win was awesome and I enjoyed it."

"That loss was terrible and I hated it."

The aftermath of Louisville football's 63-20 torching of second-ranked and perennial national powerhouse Florida State has left Cardinal fans -- and those who cover the program -- with three storylines that are being legitimately broached for the first time.

1. Louisville is the biggest story in college football right now

Diehard UofL football fans have spent the bulk of their existence playing the "no respect" card, and deservedly so. Regardless of when your fandom began, if you've donned red and black for a significant chunk of your life, you've had to deal with the "basketball school with two star recruits that doesn't really play anybody" insults.

Those days appear to be a thing of the past.

This week, the powers that be on ESPN, CBS and Fox sports talk shows have treated Louisville's blowout of the Seminoles and subsequent rise to prominence like it's a Tom Brady controversy. It's been nearly impossible to glance up at your TV at any point this week and not see the Cardinals either being talked about or about to be talked about.

The pollsters are also true believers. Louisville received six first-place votes in the most recent Associated Press Top 25, the first and only time it has received such an honor since earning a single nod for the top spot in the 2005 preseason poll. Those votes helped the Cards ascend all the way to No. 3, matching the highest ranking in program history.

Expect this team to occupy that spot longer than the one week it was there back in 2006.

2. Lamar Jackson is the early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy

This is no longer just a wild opinion or the pipe dream of an intoxicated fan. Las Vegas has taken Lamar Jackson from 100-1 preseason shot to win the most fabled individual award in all of sports, and made him the 6-5 Heisman favorite after just three weeks of the 2016 season.

It took just three games and three ridiculous performances for Jackson to make the leap from "potential breakout sophomore" to the biggest name in college football. That's not hyperbole either.

Jackson's numbers and his flare for making the highlight reel play had ESPN analyst Danny Kanell referring to him as "the type of player you see once a decade in college football" earlier this week. It had Dallas Cowboys superstar Dez Bryant predicting that Jackson could wind up being the best player in college football history. It also had Michael Vick, the first true dual threat quarterback star, saying that Jackson was "five times better" than Vick was when he played at Virginia Tech.

The Heisman isn't won in September, but if both Louisville and Jackson keep doing what they're doing, this December could be one of the most special months ever for Cardinal fans.

3. Louisville is a legitimate threat to win the national title ... in football

Sure, we've talked about it before, but there's never been a Louisville football team that has appeared to be as equipped to square off against any other squad in the country as this 2016 group.

As staggering as the final score against Florida State was, even that didn't tell the full story of just how completely Louisville dominated that game. The Cardinals dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, ran the ball at will, gave Jackson all the time he needed to throw, and effectively ended the early Heisman Trophy campaign for FSU running back Dalvin Cook, the same player who had terrorized UofL in each of the past two seasons.

Louisville would likely need 15 wins to claim a national title, which means they're only 1/5 of the way there. Still, that grandest of all dreams feels like more of a realistic possibility now than it ever has before.

What a difference a year makes.

A version of this column runs in the current issue of The Voice-Tribune