Four hours and 63 points has changed everything for Louisville Football. Delivering an all-time beat down to an all-time program in front of one of the largest national audiences will certainly flip the script. A number three ranking, wall to wall media attention, drooling talking heads, the Heisman favorite, and a Sports Illustrated cover shifts every team's target directly to the Cardinals. Louisville is no stranger to being a favorite according to Vegas, yet, it is new found territory in terms of national respect. Coach Petrino and number eight have worked tirelessly for this moment, can they handle it? The spotlight has never shined brighter upon Cardinal Football, Louisville is an underdog no more.
Surreal is the only word to describe Saturday's emasculation of Florida State. There are the beatings delivered to red-headed step children and then there is the beating the Cardinals placed upon the Seminoles. No team has ever dominated Florida State the way Louisville did. It was an obliteration in every phase of the game that has rocketed the Cardinals from dark horse to postseason favorite. Louisville almost doubled Florida State's total yardage and the Cardinals appeared to have the better player at every position on the field. Jimbo Fisher is a very good coach, recruiter, and motivator. Bobby Petrino is a great coach, possibly the greatest preparer of all time, and Coach Petrino is very skilled at finding pure athletes of all shapes and sizes that fit seamlessly into his machine. Everyone knows recruiting services are flawed and at times worthless, however, I'd like to hear their explanation as to why every Louisville player outmanned their Seminole counterpart Saturday afternoon.
The goal for most fans entering 2016 was 10 wins, beat either Clemson or Florida State, and possibly squeak into the ACC Championship. Now that the Seminoles have been disposed of like a banana peel on a road trip, what's next?
As our neighbors to the east always say when trying to find an excuse as to why they lost to an abysmal SEC basketball team, Louisville is now everyone's super bowl. Marshall may have lost 38-65 to Akron this past weekend, but now they have a shot to take out a titan. The Thundering Herd have beaten the Cardinals in four straight matchups, the last upset coming in 2011 after a big Louisville victory. Fortunately, Coach Petrino is storming the sidelines and not Charlie Strong. After the Cardinals take care of business in Huntington, the championship train will head south to Clemson to participate in College GameDay for a second time in three weeks as the higher ranked team and the favorite in an 8 pm showdown in Death Valley.
You can stop pinching yourself, this is all real.
Louisville signed up for this exact opportunity when it joined the ACC. National legitimacy was the programs only hindrance, not its performance. Being in the discussion as a national title contender is only possible because of the ACC and Louisville's placement in the Atlantic Division. No one respects you for beating Rutgers, Connecticut, or Syracuse, everyone fears you when you beat Florida State 63-20. Louisville's time has arrived after decades fighting in the mud and 2016 will not be just a flash in the pan. Lamar Jackson must return to campus in 2017, Jawon Pass is the heir apparent and will be ready to ascend to the quarterback throne as a redshirt sophomore, the coaching staff is cleaning up on the recruiting trail, and every super pac is envious of the amount of free press Louisville is receiving. 2016 is just the beginning.
The challenge moving forward is ensuring Louisville doesn't beat itself. Senior leaders Keith Kelsey and James Quick have been integral parts of the program since 2013. The two have experience in how to handle almost any type of situation or expectation. They've been 0-3, 3-0, and 12-1. Remember that Louisville was a championship contender in 2013 with Teddy leading the way. These two endured a hard coaching change and chauffeured the program into the ACC. The pair have headlined for Louisville on its biggest stages against Clemson, against Florida State, in bowl games, and that special Saturday almost a week ago. The remaining juniors and seniors have essentially seen it all, done it all. Add the consistent laser focus/preparation of Bobby Petrino and Todd Grantham, and there should be little to no concern in handling the hype.
Louisville Basketball has been a national power for the better part of 50 years, a role and label embraced by the players, coaches, and fans. Cardinal Basketball isn't satisfied with just one big win, one banner, or one chance. The expectation is to compete for championships every single season and it is time for Louisville Football to adopt that same attitude. The coaches are on board, the players certainly believe it to be possible, and I'd argue the majority of fans believe in the program, but it is time to walk the walk year in and year out. Being a basketball school and football school is perfectly ok and legal, just don't spread the word to Lexington.
The Cardinals are an underdog no more. After decades of patience, 2016 is the year that will launch Louisville's final ascent to the top of college football. Lamar Jackson was the superstar worth waiting for, Bobby Petrino was the coach worth forgiving and rehiring, and the Big 12 should be thanked every day for the rejection. The Cardinals have never been more ready, it is their time to seize a moment long deserved.
All Hail UofL !!