Later this evening in Raleigh, the 2017 Louisville Football will get its second golden opportunity of the 2017 college football season to show the country what it’s really all about. The stage is a good one in the way of a nationally televised tilt under the lights with an NC State team looking for some payback from last season. The burning question I have going into this pivotal game is the following: Are the Cardinals actually going to be contenders in the ACC down the stretch with a win or with a loss will they slowly begin morphing into just another average football squad looking to find its way into a bowl game that offers decent weather?
Through its first five games, two of which were no doubters, the Cardinals have yet to convincingly develop an identity, at least not one the UofL fan base can readily recognize. In fact, how the Cards will perform tomorrow night is about as predictable as to whether Tom Jurich will regain his title as Athletic Director at UofL.
Wins over Purdue and North Carolina, while commendable, were ultimately expected. The blowout loss at home in front of a sellout College Gameday crowd to Clemson, while NOT commendable, was conversely unexpected.
For me, the success of Louisville Football going forward will hinge on one number……
And here’s the three reasons why……
∞ Yeah I know it may sound cliché putting the fate of an entire season on a single number but play along. So, why the number you ask? Well, as most would guess, the primary reason is because Louisville’s best all-around the player (and the ACC’s as well) is without question its quarterback #8 Lamar Jackson. The Cards will ultimately only fly to heights that Jackson’s skills and playmaking abilities allow them to. So far this season, Jackson has been as sharp as advertised. Perhaps he hasn’t been magnificent, but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has still been jaw dropping at times and has been the central heartbeat for UofL’s offense. If Louisville is going to make a back door run at an ACC division and/or conference title, then Jackson will need to continue playing and producing like a Heisman front runner.
∞This may come as a surprise to some but likely not for those who have really been paying close attention the past three years. Since his second stint at the helm at UofL, Head Coach Bobby Petrino is a surprising 1-8 against ranked teams. That’s right, one win versus eight losses. The lone win, a demolition of a then top 3 ranked Florida State team certainly placed a large feather in his coaching cap. However, four straight losses to divisional and conference rival Clemson along with a smattering of other defeats have left some starting to wonder if UofL will really ever be a seriously player for the College Football Playoffs, more less the opportunity to ever play for a National Championship.
NC State comes into tomorrow night’s game ranked #24 in the AP Poll. They’re hungry as it’s the first time since 2000 that they will play a ranked team while being ranked themselves. This game offers an opportunity for the Cardinals and particularly Coach Petrino to begin a new trend, one that would shrink the 1-8 differential gap and give UofL its most convincing win of the young season.
∞ If one were to examine UofL’s schedule before this season started I’d wager that most Card fans and media allike, despite last season’s late collapse, would have picked the Cards to win close to double digit games but having done so with some hesitancy. Based on who the Cards have left to play following tonight’s contest, I feel strongly that they must win more than eight games by season’s end to avoid the UofL fan base from once again questioning the direction of Louisville Football. I’m certainly not one to criticize the job that Petrino has done since returning to UofL. Bobby P’s current recruiting class for next season is shaping up to the best in school history, he has a highly competent staff and, unlike another group we’re all too familiar with, has overseen over a program that has kept its nose clean and has at a minimum kept from embarrassing it’s fan base on a weekly basis (not counting last year’s loss to UK of course).
But at some point, Petrino’s teams need to become more consistent in terms of winning big games that change the course of a season. Tonight is another chance to do that. Losing to NC State doesn’t wreck the program, absolutely not, but it does show the ACC that the Cards still aren’t fully ready to enter the ACC Football discussion as true contenders.
Folks, I won’t lie or mince words about tonight’s game. I have a bad feeling. Now, that does NOT mean that I can’t see any way the Cards can win and besides, I’m only one observer with a hot take(s) that carries little weight. But, until I see something different from the current player and coaching personnel I’m expecting to see a fair share of flags tonight and not on the Wolfpack’s side of the ball. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. I’m also fearful that UofL will have issues running the ball effectively which on the road could spell doom. Fortunately, Lamar Jackson is plenty good enough to shine even without a running game but he can’t beat teams by himself.
So as I sit here in beautiful San Antonio, TX my fingers are firmly crossed that I get to eat multiple helpings of crow later this evening to accompany my adult beverage(s). I’m also holding out hope that Jaire Alexander will be back on the field for the first time since the Purdue game.
Prove me wrong Cards. Prove that we are ready to win not just the games we should but also the ones that look to be a true challenge. And I don’t care how ugly or pretty the outcome is, just win baby. The Cardinal fan base needs a heavy dose of something positive to start taking the bad taste that’s in all our mouths.