Fans, coaches, and athletes of every school, team, franchise, and sport have those “If Only” battles through the years, the ones that never came about.
This is the second installment of a here’s-what-never-happened series of indeterminate duration featuring what might have been but never was for various Louisville Cardinal contingents through the decades.
November 9, 2006. Piscataway, New Jersey
Chris and Herbie were in the house for a game that drew ESPN’s third largest viewing audience to that moment.
Undefeated #3 Louisville, fresh off a W over then third-ranked West Virginia, took the field against Greg Schiano’s resurgent and similarly undefeated Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
The Cardinals had been steamrolling through the season, despite the loss to injury of Heisman hopeful Michael Bush in the season opener against Kentucky. (After he scored three TDs, including a 48 yard bulldoze/ scamper on his first carry of the 59-28 romp.)
A 31-7 Card beatdown of the U in Week III grabbed the nation’s attention.
Among the Cardinal pigskin luminaries on that squad were, Brian Brohm (position coached by his older bro Jeff), Harry Douglas, William Gay, Eric Wood, Art Carmody, Gary Barnidge, Nate Harris, Malik Jackson and Amobi Okoye.
Coach Bobby Petrino, during his halcyon Era I, when he still was The Next Great Coach, and cared (at least, sort of, until he jumped ship after the season), had some fellows who could play football.
U of L stormed ahead, tallying first. When Rutgers too found paydirt, the Cards got an immediate get back. JaJuan Spillman ran the ensuing kickoff the full 100 to paydirt.
At one point, Louisville was up 25-7.
Rutgers got one back right before the break. 25-14, when the bands took the field.
The 2d was a different story.
Louisville could generate no O.
Rutgers knotted it at 25, and got the ball back at their own 9 yard line with five minutes left.
Led by Ray Rice — yes, that infamous Ray Rice — the home team moved inexorably down field, as we are wont to say, chewing up the clock.
The clock read :21, with Rutgers sitting 4th & 7 at the Cardinal 16 yard line.
Enter reliable kicker Jeremy Ito.
Who proceeded to miss. Way wide left on the chip shot attempt.
Cards survive for OT.
Uh, not so fast.
Laundry on the field. The Cards were called for offsides.
On the redo, Ito connected.
Cards 25, Rutgers 28.
Louisville’s chances to play for the BCS Crown disintegrated.
* * * * *
Had the Cards survived that battle — scoring some in the 2d, or prevailing in OT — how legitimate were their chances to compete in the BCS title game?
Actually, pretty damned legit.
The #5-ranked Cardinals finished the regular campaign in fine fashion. Dominating their last three encounters by 23, 24 and 31.
Rutgers lost twice, to Cincy the week after their Card W, and to West Virginia. However, had the Cards beaten them, the dialog would have been different. How U of L cracked Rutgers, etc, etc.
U of L would have remained #3 in the polls. At the very least.
The Big East was strong that year, finishing 5-0 in bowl games.
Sweater vested Jim Tressel’s Ohio State Buckeyes, led by Hesiman winner Troy Smith, were #1 preseason, and remained so throughout the regular season. They went undefeated.
#3 Michigan lost to the Buckeyes, and again to Troy in the Rose Bowl.
#4 LSU fell twice during the season, to Auburn and Florida.
#2 Florida, which smote The Ohio State U. mightily in the title game, also lost in the regular season to Auburn.
While that SEC bias might raised its ugly, ever present head with the selection committee, resulting in one loss Florida still taking the field in Arizona, the University of Louisville would have absolutely been in the conversation to see what it might do against Luke Fickell’s D to wear the crown.
Those times seem so long ago, far away.
— c d kaplan