So I pulled out my Detroit Lions ballcap yesterday.
Stay with me here, this isn't some LSD flashback, an indecipherable rambling rumination about nothing much, I shall get to the Louisville Cardinals and the upcoming campaign in a sec. Just want to provide some context.
I was born in Motown, and even though my family moved to Louisville when I was but a mere babe, I follow and root for Detroit's pro teams. Including the perennially hapless Lions of the NFL. (Along with Glorious Editor.)
As you all too well know, it's the time of year when hope springs you know what-- that's right, eternal -- for every franchise at every level of pigskin.
It's true in Motor City.
It is true in Derbytown, USA.
And optimism is welling up inside Cardinal fans either because of or despite the pall that hangs over U of L football no thanks to that the three game nosedive that ended last campaign. The Red & Black Faithful are ready and raring to go.
The L1C4 Nation is dreaming the Cards can be a contender, return to the upper echelon, where they were perched in '06 before spitting out the bit at Rutgers, and where they were poised last autumn before braying about disrespect, then laying down at Houston, against the Cats and in the Citrus Bowl.
Here's why there is reason for bullish expectations, in no particular order of importance.
Coach Bobby P remains in high regard football-wise, here in Louisville, as well as across the land. This, despite the reality that his offenses haven't seemed quite as much "The Future of Football" as they did his first time roaming Papa J's sidelines. Remember how wide open receivers were, and how big the holes opened up for Michael Bush to truck through.
Petrino's frankly more conservative than he used to be. Plus the level of competition is significantly more difficult than Era I. He wasn't quick to adapt to some slow down tactics employed last season, by, say, Duke and UVa. But his remains one of the more astute offensive minds in the college game. There's no reason to believe, with the talent the Cardinals now have, that he won't again cement his status as a pigskin savant. (Though his inability to charge up his squad emotionally and his lack of inner Knute Rockne were on display last year during the Cards' late season swoon, when they played without inspiration.)
It would be foolish to muse further without mentioning Lamar Jackson.
It's astonishing when you think about it that he was able to run away with the Heisman Trophy, despite playing behind one of the worst OLs in the game, despite schizzy footwork, and a properly calibrated sight for that gun of a throwing arm of his. And, oh yeah, the issues with his decision making that was too often, well, sophomoric.
The reality is it’s highly unlikely that he’ll repeat his Heisman grab, even if he tosses 40 TDs against 3 picks, and breaks the 2000 yard mark rushing. Unless perhaps he should lead the Cards to an 11-1 jaunt through the regular season, including an hard fought almost W in Tallahassee, the ACC title and a spot in the Final Four.
My point is this. The dream scenario conjured in the last paragraph can become The Truth, because . . .
. . . because LJ still has such a huge upside.
One assumes, under the tutelage of Mike Summers, the offensive line will improve. (It certainly can't get any worse.) Meaning more time to operate for Lamar. A natural cycle of maturation will mean better footwork and more accuracy for Jackson. Plus, fans hope, QB leadership bubbles up like that of Teddy B.
Then there’s this. U of L has a game breaker on the defensive side of the ball like Doug Buffone or Sam Madison or Elvis Dumervil. Jaire Alexander is the real deal. As a corner. 5 picks and 9 break ups last season. As a return guy. Ten and a half yards a return and a TD last season. He makes the kind of plays that get players and fans fired up.
Of course, there are questions which must be answered. Will the team use the chip on its shoulder for the better? During dire moments of peril, will they fold or buckle up? Will Peter Sirmon's simpler D be more stable, more consistent than his predecessor's?
Is there a Harry Douglas or J.R. Russell or Deion Branch among the receiving corps? Will one of the stable full of RBs take charge and be the go to carrier of choice?
Will the Cards fall prey to any of the three trap games in North Carolina, against the Tar Heels, Wolfpack and Demon Deacons? Can they take care of biz against Dabo's Tigers? Will they avoid a smackdown against an excellent Seminole squad, which shall be frothing from the maw for revenge like a pack of ravenous, rabid lions spying Russell Crowe across the coliseum?
Those concerns notwithstanding, there are legit reasons for the Louisville faithful to be optimistic.
U of L's program is sitting where the defending national champion Clemson Tigers were 5, 6, 7 years ago. Lots of potential. Almost but not quite good enough thus far to break on through to the other side.
This season's as good as any to kick down the door.
Dreaming a bit, oh how great would it be if it was Alabama the underdog, looking for revenge in that '18 season opener?
-- Seedy K