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So how exactly do we feel about the second Petrino era?

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Boston College v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Maybe I’m too biased. Maybe my perspective is skewed, and tunnel vision has taken over when it comes to examining the college football landscape. But in my mind, there is no more fascinating case study in the sport than Bobby Petrino, right here in Louisville. Elevation to a legitimate power conference, uncertain expectations, and one larger than life superstar have combined to create radically different opinions on Petrino within the fan base.

Some would hand him his walking papers tomorrow, salivating over a pursuit of Jeff Brohm and visions of glory just waiting to be made a reality. They decry the past four years as an overall underachievement, and claim that Louisville will never tap into its full potential with Petrino at the helm. Others find that a ludicrous suggestion, based on nothing but far-fetched delusions and lack of perspective. These fans believe that Bobby Petrino is doing a fine job of raising the program’s profile, and is steadily building a machine capable of making gains in the unforgiving war of succeeding in major college football. Shockingly, as with most debates… there are merits to both sides.

The issue is, these two groups are approaching the argument with two starkly different methods of evaluation: the macro focused versus the micro focused.

A macro-based view could also be called a “big picture” viewpoint. The minutiae of individual players and specific games are not really the subjects of scrutiny here. Rather, the important factors become things like season win totals, composite recruiting rankings, and long-term trajectory. From this angle, it is hard to be displeased with Bobby Petrino’s work so far in the ACC. His first four years in the league have brought alternating nine and eight win seasons, and a conference record of 21-11 (third best ACC record in that timespan). These results compare very favorably to other successful programs that have recently transitioned into a stronger league. Utah in their first four PAC-12 seasons won, in order, eight, five, five, then nine games.

Pittsburgh in their first four ACC seasons achieved seven, six, eight, and eight wins. How about our old friends from Morgantown, in the Big 12? They got seven, four, seven, and eight win seasons. TCU and Texas A&M produced a double digit win season within their first three years of a new conference, but those programs have a far more lucrative recruiting base than Louisville or any of the other teams mentioned.

Speaking of recruiting, that’s another point that the macro oriented fan will give to Petrino. According to the 247sports Composite Recruiting Rankings, Louisville has reeled in eight top 40 classes since 2003. Half of them have been during Petrino’s second stint here. Louisville had never achieved four consecutive top 40 classes before the 29th ranked class of 2018 cemented that accomplishment. So to these fans, Louisville should feel confident about Petrino’s results. He is recruiting historically well, has attained very solid results in the potentially perilous transition to a Power 5 conference, and to top it off has molded a Heisman winner that single-handedly brought two College Gamedays to Cardinal Stadium. And that, from our other fan view, is exactly why he has been an underachiever and disappointment.

Micro-focused fans will value far different things than their macro counterparts. To this group, specific details like individual recruits, players, and games play a far more important role in evaluating a coach. In their eyes, Bobby has been weighed, measured, and found wanting. In his return season, he lost four games with a team that had a whopping ten players drafted that very year. Local recruiting has also been deficient.

According to 247sports Composite, since 2015 there have been nine ‘blue chip’ (four star or higher) football players from the Bluegrass State. Only one, Jairus Brents of Waggener, signed with Louisville. In the 2019 class there are an astonishing seven such prospects. Four have committed to out-of-state powers, and another has already eliminated Louisville from consideration. Last year Petrino lost star local receiver Rondale Moore to Purdue, and five star players like Stephen Herron Jr., Damien Harris, and Landon Young did not even spare Louisville a passing glance. But most of the angst from this fan group centers around Lamar Jackson.

Jackson was the most electrifying football player to ever suit up for Louisville, and was so prolific that no one batted an eye when he nearly replicated his Heisman winning numbers last year. Based on early reports from Baltimore, he seems well on his way to becoming Louisville’s NFL version of Donovan Mitchell. And like Mitchell, some fans will lament his tenure as a wasted opportunity. Not once did a Lamar-led team win double-digit games, play in a major bowl, or finish in the AP Top 20.

From the micro perspective, this is an inexcusable black mark against Petrino. Every painful loss and squandered chance is laid at his feet. The missed recruits, the hire of Peter Sirmon, the fact that last year’s team lost to every ranked opponent (and a couple unranked ones), the fiery plane crash that was the end of 2016… these are all signs that Petrino has lost his fastball. Give Jeff Brohm and his Purdue staff Louisville’s roster and schedule last year. Do you think they win more than eight games? From the macro-fan perspective, this is an irrelevant question. However, to others, the answer is everything.