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It’s time for Louisville football to speak up again

It’s been too long.

NCAA Football: Murray State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

My biggest problem with Louisville football during the Scott Satterfield era wasn’t centered around where the program was, but rather where it appeared the program was headed.

Where it was headed was a ceiling that no one would have accepted when Louisville first joined the ACC in 2014. It was my worst fear realized: 7-5 and 6-6 seasons no longer being a temporary acceptance, but a perennial expectation.

Whenever Louisville football stumbles and fans begin to express a degree of unhappiness, there is a portion of our fan base that retreats to the same safe house and lobs the same lines that I’ve heard since I was a teenager (which was the first period of time Cardinal football started to have actual expectations).

Our fans are so spoiled now.

Let’s not forget that we used to play in a Minor League baseball stadium with maybe 5,000 people in attendance.

Louisville almost quit football entirely at multiple points during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Lots of programs would kill to have seven or eight win seasons almost every year.

We’re not Ohio State or Alabama, I don’t know how some of our fans don’t get that.

None of these notions are off-base, but the accuracy of the statements isn’t the issue. The issue is that at the slightest hint of controversy, some Louisville fans are all too eager to run and hide behind a group of statements whose relevance to the program should have worn out a while ago.

Don’t get me wrong, juxtaposing where the program is (in the ACC, with state of the art facilities and a relatively rich recent history) with where it was (getting its ass beat with regularity in front of a smattering of fans at Old Cardinal Stadium) is important and it speaks volumes. What it isn’t is a universal excuse that should be paraded around every time Louisville football’s stock takes a dramatic dip. There was a time when the ugly history was so recent that it could apply to anything going on with the program, but we’re past that now. Or at least we should be.

It’d be one thing if the then to now had been a slow build that currently had us all dreaming out what this program could be, but Louisville football has already been great. Not only has it been great, it has flirted with the most extreme level of greatness.

This is a program that has finished in the top six nationally twice in the last two decades and in the top 15 five times. It’s been talked about as a preseason national title contender multiple times, and it’s been in the national title conversation in November multiple times. It’s produced a Heisman Trophy winner and a handful of the NFL’s biggest superstars. It’s gone from no home to Conference USA to the ACC in a blink of the sporting eye.

When Louisville football speaks up, it does so in a way that everyone can hear it.

It has an opportunity to speak up again on Saturday night.

There’s been a lot of talk this week about where this contest — a 7:30 p.m. primetime kickoff on ABC against a top 10 team representing the sport’s most recognizable brand — ranks in terms of U of L football’s biggest stages.

My answer: “It’s up there.”

The significance of a win?

“It’d be way up there.”

Let’s reminisce.

In 1991, Louisville made an audible statement of existence when it pounded storied Alabama 34-7 in the Fiesta Bowl. As many have pointed out, though, that Crimson Tide team finished the season just 7-5, and only wound up playing in the game after other programs had declined due to the controversy surrounding the state of Arizona’s rejection of Martin Luther King Day.

U of L spoke up again in 2002 when it stunned fourth-ranked Florida State on a rainy Thursday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The field storming that night was the only euphoric moment of a season where the Cards — who already had two losses heading into the game — wound up with an average record in an average conference.

The two BCS wins in 2007 and 2013 were Louisville’s first taste of the sport’s brightest stage, and the latter still likely holds the earned distinction of being the biggest win in school history. The Florida victory will always be special because the Cardinals took down a national championship-caliber team at the end of the season in a David vs. Goliath situation. Still, it’s worth remembering that even though David took down Goliath in front of the entire college football world, he still finished behind the big guy in the final national rankings.

In 2016, Louisville became the talk of the college football world with a 63-20 demolition of No. 2 Florida State that established Lamar Jackson as the Heisman Trophy front-runner and vaulted the Cardinals into the College Football Playoff discussion. If we’re being honest, U of L football hasn’t really been heard from since the three-game losing streak that punctuated that campaign.

That can change in about 35 hours.

A Louisville win over Notre Dame will usher in talk about the program’s bright future under Jeff Brohm, and rightly so. It’ll also present some interesting new conversations about the present.

A 6-0 Louisville team with a 3-0 ACC record for the first time ever would demand a level of attention that we haven’t seen since Jackson took his talents to Baltimore. The conference championship race discussion would become more than just the “don’t forget about Louisville” talk that presently exists only on the periphery.

All of this would be a whole hell of a lot of fun.

What it would also be is a tangible piece of evidence that the vivid dreams of a decade ago are still attainable.

Back in 2014, when Louisville made the move to the ACC, if you’d asked every member of the fan base whether or not they believed they’d see the Cardinals win a national title in their lifetime, my assumption is a majority would have said yes. And it would have seemed like the safe answer. U of L was coming off two seasons in which they’d lost a combined three games, the high of defeating Florida in the Sugar Bowl was still lingering, as were the top six finishes from 2004 and 2006.

That was the dream then, and there’s no reason it still shouldn’t be the dream now, especially with the playoff set to expand a year from now.

In recent years, it’s been hard to escape the feeling that the dream was fading. College football is a caste system. If you settle into the role of a program that’s going to consistently top out at seven or eight or nine wins, that’s an extremely tough mold to break out of. Ask any of the programs that have existed there for the past few decades.

A win over Notre Dame wouldn’t guarantee a 10 or 11 win season for the Cardinals, and it wouldn’t guarantee that one is coming in the year or two that will follow ... but it’d certainly be the most tangible piece of evidence we’ve had in a while that such a season is possible for this program.

It’s been too long. It’s time for Louisville football to be heard from again.

Go Cards. Beat Notre Dame.