With all the chatter around Louisville sports being about the men’s basketball transfer market and spring football practice, as well as this lull between now and Sunday when the women’s basketball team can play again, it feels like we’re beginning to officially settle into the offseason. And what better time than to bust out one of my annual posts: The Louisville Football Stock Watch.
For those who are unfamiliar with my lengthy and renowned writing career, each year I like to put together an update of where Louisville’s football team should be in regards to the trends from last 30 years of Cardinal Football. The way I do this is I ignore all legitimate factors that go into measuring the success (or lack thereof) of a football program such as recruiting, roster management, coaching talent, player development, facilities, etc., and I predict solely based on Louisville’s last 30 years of win totals where Louisville will be as a program the following year.
Following the disastrous 2018 season and the subsequent hiring of Scott Satterfield, I predicted that Louisville was due for a rebound similar to what we saw following the hirings of Howard Schellenberger, John L. Smith, and Charlie Strong. After winning eight games and the Music City Bowl, it turns out I was right and I looked extremely smart. So last spring I doubled down on my theory and said that based on my model, which I call Conor’s Ultimate Cardinal Football Win Trend Tracker (name is still a work in progress), that it was the perfect time to buy stock in Louisville football.
But then 2019 did not make me look very smart.
However! If I’ve learned anything from investing heavily and then losing money in GameStop, it’s that you should never sell at the dip and always buy more. And based on where Louisville should be this year in the CUCFWTT, now is the time to buy even more stock in Louisville.
Here’s how CUCFWTT works:
Step 1: Late Decade Collapse
To start the cycle we as UofL fans, unfortunately, must endure a late decade collapse. Think of it as a reset, if that helps the pain at all. Like most ventures, we begin at the bottom.
Heading into the ‘90s, the Cards were wrapping up what had been an abysmal decade that did not include a single season with more than 5 wins. In ’85 Howard Schnellenberger took over a Bob Weber-led team that had bottomed out with a 2-9 season in the previous year. “Schnelly” would spend the next few years building the program into something the program hadn’t seen since Lee Corso was patrolling the sidelines: A Winner.
After leading the program to heights the UofL football program had never seen before, Schnellenberger stepped down due to personal issues with then-president of the university, Dr. Donald Swain. He stated in a 2012 interview that the issues with Swain revolved around the athletic department’s planned move for the football team to give up its conference independence and join the start-up Conference USA.
Schnellenberger spoke on the matter saying, “I wasn’t going to coach in a conference where I didn’t have a chance to compete for the national championship.”
Eastern Michigan’s Ron Cooper took over the Cards in 1995, and in just 3 seasons led the Cardinals face-first into the ground with a 1-10 record in ‘97.
Once again, after leading the program to heights it had never seen before, with the 2006 Cardinals capping off a wildly successful 12-1 campaign with an Orange Bowl victory, UofL’s head coach decided to leave. This time it was Bobby Petrino leaving UofL for the Atlanta Falcons.
Steve Kragthorpe would take over a star-studded roster and quickly drive the program off the cliff in less than 3 years, ultimately getting himself fired after a sour 4-8 2009 season.
In less than two seasons after Bobby 2.0’s Cardinals take Clemson to the wire in an instant classic down in Death Valley, and Lamar Jackson becomes the program’s first Heisman Trophy Winner, Petrino quits trying to run a football program and gets fired before the 2018 team can complete a shocking 2-10 season.
STEP 2: First Signs of Hope
After finishing a disappointing, but encouraging, 3-win season in 1987, Schnellenberger and his squad take an enormous leap to 8 wins in ’88. This season proves as a sign of good things to come.
John L. Smith guides Louisville as they bounce back from their worst season in over 30 years to win 7 games and earn a berth in the 1998 Motor City Bowl.
Charlie Strong takes over a limping Cardinal program and caps off an improbable bowl-bid season with a win over Southern Mississippi in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
I looked so ridiculously smart after 2019. I’ll go ahead and say that between all the close losses and the analytical improvement on paper, I feel like we still took tiny step forward as a program in 2020. Let’s hope I’m not actually an idiot and we get to go to step 3 very soon.
Step 3: Big Leap to Start the Decade
After an encouraging 1987 season, Schnellenberger’s team took a small step back to win 6 games in ’89. But with some serious momentum building after two fairly successful seasons, the Cardinals surge to win 10 games in 1990 and kick off the New Year with a 34-7 crushing of the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Fiesta Bowl.
With back-to-back 7-win seasons in ’98 and ‘99, John L. Smith had Louisville clicking on all cylinders as they rolled into the new millennium. Smith’s Cardinals would reel off back-to-back Conference USA Championships while amassing a combined 20-5 record over 2000 and 2001.
Charlie Strong and company enjoy back-to-back bowl trips in ’10 and ’11 before Teddy Bridgewater and his team of future pro-football players stun #3 Florida 33-23 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Step 4: The Hangover
Schnellenberger and his Cardinals let their New Year’s hangover linger all year as they come crashing down to a sobering 2-9 season.
John L. Smith loses focus as he sets his sights higher and ultimately accepts the Michigan State job offer during halftime of the 2002 GMAC Bowl. The Cardinals would go on to lose the bowl game as they completed the season with a 7-6 record.
Charlie Strong leaves for Texas after the Cards finish 12-1. Petrino takes over for a second stint as he leads UofL into the much tougher ACC. Louisville’s roster turns over as win totals fall into single digits in ’14 and ’15.
Step 5: Second Wind
After nearly flatlining in ’91, Schnellenberger and gang regroup and go on to win 5 games in ’92, and continue forward as they win 9 games and the Liberty Bowl in 1993.
In 2003 Bobby Petrino takes over a program reeling from a disappointing 7-6 season and strange departure by John L. Smith. The Cards win 41 of the next 50 games as they become one of the hottest programs in the country.
Petrino 2.0 and gang take time to adjust to life in the ACC, as well as each other in ’14 and ’15, accomplishing decent 9 and 8-win seasons. However, 2016 starts off hotter than any season in recent memory, with Lamar Jackson becoming an overnight phenom and the Cardinals carrying a Top 5 ranking late into November before the wheels fall off in Houston. This doesn’t stop Jackson from taking home the Heisman Trophy and becoming the program’s first player to do so.
Step 6: Repeat
So here we are now in the dead center of CUCFWTT’s Step 2. We overachieved following the hiring of Satterfield, just as we did in the three previous decades, and we held things sort of steady in year two. I even guessed during this post last year that Louisville would probably be not much greater nor worse than they were in 2019. I’ll go ahead and give myself a pat on the back and say I was right.
Now the scary part, at least for me: In order for CUCFWTT to continue to be the most accurate predictor tool in all of college football, we need to see this program have a serious breakthrough either this year or next. Charlie, John L. and Bobby 2.0 all took their huge leaps in year 3, with Schnelly making his big leap in year 4. So, in order to protect my ego and the integrity of CUCFWTT, I am giving Scott Satterfield until 2022 to move this program into Step 3.
So, there you have it. I am officially predicting that by 2022 Louisville will win a NY6 Bowl Game.
No way I can possibly be wrong about this.
Do not fail me, Scott.