Louisville Football has always been just close enough to reach a high level of success, but just far enough away from reaching the very top. A dropped interception here. An offsides there. A major injury or a game where the defense lays an egg. Louisville has always needed to be perfect in a sport that requires at least some luck.
The 2016 Louisville football team is the perfect storm. It was built for years and took multiple decisions and plans to come to fruition. It took the right coach, and maybe more importantly, the right player. It took some players and coaches sticking around when they could have left. To be a non-elite team competing for the national championship you need a lot of things to go your way, and that doesn't happen overnight.
A couple of years ago, Louisville was in an unenviable spot. The coach that brought the program back from the bottom of a conference that was falling apart left, and his star quarterback decided to enter the draft. The program was finally getting into a big time conference they didn't have a coach. Tom Jurich said he had a list of seven coaches and originally Bobby Petrino wasn't at the top of it. I think Jurich knew all along that he wanted a coach that could come in and turn Louisville into an offensive powerhouse. His program was headed into the ACC and into a conference with Clemson and Florida State who consistently have elite talent. Jurich is smart enough to know that you have to have a high powered offense to win these days even if you have an elite defense. So he went with the best offensive mind in college football when he needed someone new to man the sidelines.
Petrino took over a roster that was stocked with talent but the majority of the proven players were veterans. Petrino's offense struggled due to injuries and poor offensive line play but the defense thrived under Todd Grantham and his pressure scheme. Louisville isn't the easiest place to recruit high level talent that can contribute right away and Petrino isn't an elite recruiter. However, he is a guy that is known for developing talent and he's done well with not only bringing in players but also taking advantage of what he was left with. More than half of the Louisville starting defense are players that Charlie Strong signed. Two others followed Grantham to Louisville (If you count Shaq Wiggins as the starter at corner). Two others are JUCO transfers who came in and could immediately make an impact.
You couldn't ask for a better situation than an offensive guru being handed a defense full of talent. You look at most teams that perform well on both sides of the ball and they’re the usual suspects. Alabama, Clemson, FSU, and a handful of other teams at a less consistent rate get the top talent that allows them to reload when they lose guys. Louisville was able to reload on offense while the defense stayed at a high level. Petrino and his staff were able to bring in some JUCO guys on the offensive line because he knew he didn't have the bodies when he got here and he wasn't going to be able to revamp an entire line with freshman. So now he has an offense full of young skilled players that he brought in and a defense full of veteran guys that were brought in by strong defensive recruiters.
Louisville still has an athletic director who wants to play top teams out of conference, and they have two elite teams in their own division. This is the one year where Louisville wasn't opening with an elite team to start their season like they are in the near future with Alabama and Notre Dame. They got Florida State at home with a freshman quarterback and without their best defensive player. They get Clemson when Clemson seems to be off their game on the offensive side of the ball. They get Houston after they lost a good amount of talent also and the potential conference championship game will be against a division that doesn't have a proven commodity yet. And if we're being honest, the stuff above could end up not meaning anything because, so far, Louisville has just been a hot knife through the butter that is their opponents.
And the reason that Louisville is demolishing everything in their path: Lamar Jackson. Jackson is the lightning strike that knocks out the power. Lamar Jackson is the wind that blows the roof off of the house. Lamar Jackson is wave that capsizes the boat. He is the eye of the perfect storm. The stats have been eye-popping. The highlights are awe-inspiring. The praise has been loud enough that it's impossible to escape. Lamar Jackson is all of the work to reach this point, embodied. From the time that Teddy Bridgewater and company dominated a Florida team that had the one of the top defenses in the country, this was bound to happen. But it needed help getting there.
Tom Jurich brought in the best offensive coach and he ended up getting the best offensive player with him. These types of things happen in Disney movies when some crazy athletic kid moves into the neighborhood and just happens to love whatever sport the movie is based on. It's not supposed to happen in major college football. Not only did that happen but plenty of other things happened as well. This perfect storm was built with smart decisions, a little bit of luck, and a lightning strike in the form of a quarterback. With a few more wins this perfect storm could become a hurricane.