College football is weirdly unique like this. Unlike the NFL, not every week counts the same or provides a relatively level playing field. Standings don't necessarily mean as much as strength of schedule. So in college, it's not uncommon to play a big game followed by a decidedly mediocre one that's no more than a potential trap before gearing up for an equally big one again.
Ok, to clarify, it's not uncommon for the big programs that play in the SEC like Alabama, LSU, so on and so forth. Most teams don't get to play two top-5 teams in the span of three weeks. That usually only happens to powerhouses in powerhouse conferences or tiny schools that load their non-conference schedule with big schools to get big paydays.
Oh, and in the year 2016, that happens to the Louisville Cardinals, for the first reason listed above. What's more, those Louisville Cardinals head into week two of said three-week span having already embarrassed the first top-five opponent they've faced. All of the sudden, this is starting to sound more like a story about, say, Alabama. That is, if Alabama had the nation's best scoring offense that was 12 points better than the next-best team.
That's where Louisville is now, at least at this point in this season. It's never happened before. ESPN's College Gameday has never traveled to the site of two Louisville football games in a period of just three weeks. And speaking of Alabama - the No. 1 team in the country - Louisville is just two spots back of the Crimson Tide in the AP poll (three in the Coaches).
While we as Louisville fans - and people around the country - recognize that Lamar Jackson and co. undoubtedly belong here in the stratosphere of this season's college football universe, it's hard not to be a bit wide-eyed at the whole thing. No, Bobby Petrino and his team won't be taking a second to "soak it all in" and "be happy to be here", and they obviously shouldn't. But as fans, we have a moment to take a look around and say, "whoa, that happened fast".
Of course, it didn't all happen fast. We know the story of Charlie Strong taking control of a program in disarray in 2010 and building it back up before Petrino returned to re-install his high-flying offense that has the rest of the country gawking at some unbelievable early numbers this year. Now, though, with Jackson putting up dizzying statistics against all comers, it sure seems like we're moving at break-neck speed along with him and this year's team.
With that in mind, it's correct to say that now is the time for Louisville to make the last big jump as a program to a national contender. It's all there, the schedule, the ranking and the current four-team system in place to determine a national champion. Finally, Louisville has its chance to have its say in the national conversation.
This week includes a trip to Marshall, a game that falls under the fan heading of something like "We just beat Florida State and Clemson is next week, please hurry". The Herd were pummeled by Akron a week ago, so while they certainly don't seem like a road block, they can easily become one if Louisville doesn't handle its business.
Because the players on the team don't really have time to, let's make sure we're soaking it in. Tomorrow, next weekend and in the weeks that follow. Maybe a leap into a new norm is happening for the Louisville football program, but there's no way of knowing when an opportunity like this will happen again.
There is still a lot to be determined in this football season, and it's mentally healthier to keep some perspective in that sense. On the other hand, at the end of the day, this is just really awesome. It's not just that Louisville has a Heisman frontrunner or currently would hold a spot in the College Football Playoff. It's that right now, for the first time ever, BOTH of those things are reality at the same damn time ('sup, Future).
The 2016 football season has already been a blast. It's likely to continue to progress in a similar fashion. The best part is that it's just getting started. We've been "on the train" for a while, but it's a different train now for a multitude of reasons, and it's time to buckle up.
And beat Marshall tomorrow night.