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Thursday afternoon Cardinal news and notes

Even Gingerbread House season took a dark turn in Louisville this year.

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—Here’s U of L’s official recap of the team’s Holiday Bowl loss to USC.

—Cardinal Authority looks at the key moments that doomed Louisville on Wednesday night.

—Eric Crawford says the story of Louisville’s 2023 football season is a simple one: Good start, bad finish.

So this is the simple explanation. Louisville was more the team that analytics ranked in the 30-range than the top 15 that the human polls ranked it, and that’s about right, in the end. The tale of talent and depth will show that two key defections for the bowl game hurt Louisville than 10 key defections (including a Heisman winning quarterback) for USC. For Louisville in Brohm’s first season, the line was that fine.

Brohm deserves credit for pulling the right strings to get Louisville to where it got this season. But pulling strings only works for so long.

USC coach Lincoln Riley will attack defenses where they are most vulnerable and Miller Moss was capable of reading the Cardinal defense and finding open receivers. Louisville had not faced that kind of offensive combination all season, even if USC was depleted. And it showed. USC attacked Louisville’s safeties relentlessly. And won.

And while Brohm deserves credit for cobbling Louisville into a 10-1 team, no matter the combination of factors, he’ll also be a victim of the expectations that created.

That means as good as the season was – and few seriously had this Louisville team winning 10 games and going to the ACC championship game – the manner of its ending will keep the program from reaping the full rewards of that accomplishment, though anyone tempted to look at the late games Louisville could have won would do well to remember to remember the earlier games it could easily have lost.

At 10-1, any second-guessing of Brohm seemed foolish. After going 0-3 in big games to finish, there will be more questions. Uppermost in the minds of most fans is whether there was no viable alternative at quarterback, even after Plummer got hurt? Likely not. Coaches aren’t known for leaving guys with the ability to win games sitting on the bench. And whoever was playing would’ve been dealing with the same struggling receiver corps. Still, a quarterback who was simply accurately making the throws on the plays that were called would’ve made this a much closer game. There are questions.

—C.L. Brown writes that despite a disappointing end, Jeff Brohm got the most he could out of his first roster at Louisville. Now, the task for Brohm is adding value depth.

—Yasir and YaYa forever.

—Speaking of Diaby, more and more folks are saying the former Cardinal deserves to be the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

—Jeff Brohm won’t be happy with the way it ended, but his first season at Louisville put some additional coin in his pocket, and years on his contract.

—For Louisville, a season of hope and promise sputtered to the finish line.

—Lane Kiffin describes college football’s current system as “terrible.”

—The Athletic’s college hoops staff ranks the sport’s top programs in tiers, and puts Louisville in the second tier.

We’ve already covered Indiana’s long, steady slide. But how about Louisville’s sudden, shocking plunge? And how near to blue-blood status did Villanova get with four Final Fours and two titles in a 13-year run before Jay Wright abruptly retired? Is Arizona, which earned its first No. 1 ranking in a decade this season, upwardly mobile again? On the flip side, if 68-year-old Tom Izzo runs out of gas, does that spell the end of Michigan State as a brand name?

This really is the in-limbo tier. The tweeners. These five programs have combined for 39 Final Four appearances and 14 NCAA championships, but there’s some separation in the “What Have You Done for Me Lately” category. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Indiana’s been to three Final Fours, Louisville and Arizona four each, Villanova five and Michigan State eight. Last national title? IU in 1987, Arizona in 1997, MSU in 2000, U of L in 2013 (asterisk included and whatnot) and Nova in 2018.

The Wildcats from Tucson are the odd member of this club, because they’re the only Tier 2 school without multiple national titles won by multiple head coaches. They only have four Final Fours all time and just one since that ’97 championship — but a ton of near misses with seven Elite Eight appearances in that span. Sean Miller went to three regional finals from 2011 to 2015 but never broke through. Tommy Lloyd, in Year 3, might have a team that can.

Nailing the hire matters in maintaining elite program status. Villanova won 30 games and reached another national semifinal in 2022, Wright’s last season, then went 17-17 in Kyle Neptune’s first year and have looked wobbly at times this season.

Michigan State successfully passed the baton from national champion Jud Heathcote to Izzo, who won a title and has held the job for nearly 30 years. But there will be a ton of pressure on whoever becomes the Spartans’ third coach since 1976.

Whenever that time comes, Michigan State, try to remember you don’t have to keep it in the family. Just ask Louisville, where Kenny Payne was swallowed alive by the tall task of leading his alma mater, which almost overnight became the laughingstock of college basketball. Incredibly, a mere four years ago, the Cardinals were ranked No. 1 in the AP poll under Chris Mack. Ten years ago, they won the program’s third national championship under Rick Pitino. In that moment, coming off consecutive Final Fours, U of L was about as close to breaking into the blue-blood club as possible. Theirs is a cautionary tale that these things can change in the blink of an eye.

—Colin Cowherd had some not so nice things to say about Louisville (and Florida State, by proxy) after the team’s loss to USC.

—UK has a “behind-the-scenes” cinematic recap of the Wildcats’ win at the Yum Center.

—Ashton is the man.

—WLKY has eight local stories that brought joy in 2023.

—Rick Bozich recaps Louisville’s Holiday Bowl loss here.

—And finally, the Mike Rutherford Show will be on from 3-6 this afternoon to recap the bowl loss and put a cap on the 2023 season overall. You can listen on 1450/96.1 or stream the show here.