It’s early May and this city is absolutely buzzing. Is it buzzing about its world-renowned event happening in two days that brings millions upon millions of dollars to the local economy in just one week? I mean, yeah. But it’s also buzzing about Louisville Football when there’s not a game for nearly four more months. Between the spring practices, the momentum in high school recruiting, the eye-turning transfer portal additions, and the glorious new “Heisman Card” field, Jeff Brohm and Co. have gotten this fanbase as excited as any first-year coach can at their new program before a down has even been played.
So, I thought what better time than to dig up an oldie but a goodie: The Louisville Football Stock Watch.
For those unfamiliar, every few years I like to put together an update of where Louisville’s football team should be trending in regard 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 like we saw following the hirings of Howard Schellenberger, John L. Smith, and Charlie Strong. After winning eight games and the Music City Bowl in 2019, it turns out I was right and I looked extremely smart. So, in the spring of 2020 I doubled down on my theory and said that based on my model, which I call Conor’s Ultimate Cardinal Football Win Trend Tracker (CUCFWTT) that it was the perfect time to buy stock in Louisville football.
But then 2020 did not make me look very smart. So, I did what any wise man would do and in the Spring of 2021: I TRIPLED down and said that Louisville was due for a major surge...
But before we get to far ahead of ourselves, let’s recap how the CUCFWTT model 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.
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
Back to where I went wrong: I whiffed in 2021 when Louisville won just six games and in 2022 got a slight uptick and won eight. My problem is that I thought that Satterfield had already finished Step 2: First Signs of Hope and was ready to move on to Step 3: Big Leap to Start the Decade as his predecessors Schnelly, John L., and Strong did.
But I misunderstood that the CUCFWTT required that Satterfield needed at least two seasons of relative stability before the program could think about taking off and starting Step 3. Fortunately for my model and my pride, Satterfield got out of Dodge before he could dismantle three decades of perfect trends.
Now with the ship seemingly steadied, we’ve brought in Brohm who appears more than ready to begin Step 3 and hopefully lead the program on a meteoric rise similar to Bobby 1.0.
A lot of this is in jest, of course, but I do find it exciting/eerie how this does feel a lot like where things were exactly 20 years ago when Bobby 1.0 came into town after the coach who got the program back on solid footing left the program in a very strange way. And with the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams next year there really couldn’t be a better time for the CUCFWTT to be right.