When Howard Schnellenberger walked into the Louisville job in 1985, Cardinal football was nearly in shambles. UofL had come off six straight losing seasons. There were even rumblings that the program may step down into I-AA.
As Schnellenberger stepped up for his opening press conference, he set the tone for his future and the program’s future quickly.
“This program is on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time,” Schnellenberger predicted.
To be fair, this was an easy statement to make. Some time in the future many programs will take a shot at a national title, and time is truly the only variable. But after further investigation Schnellenberger himself couldn’t have predicted how quickly Louisville rose to the top.
On Monday, New York Times excellently documented the rapid growth of Louisville football throughout the 90s and 00s. Thanks to the assistance of ESPN, the Cardinals began playing nationally televised games on weeknights. These match-ups gave the Cards increased national attention and bids to the Big East and now the ACC.
The Times is masterful in its description of Louisville’s meteoric rise at the hands of Tom Jurich. The story describes how he took a team in the newly created Conference USA to the national spotlight. Turning them into one of the biggest programs in the country.
Its interesting how much the article outline’s Louisville partnership with ESPN. Given the recent history of constant disrespect from its TV personalities and other shows. Not to mention the fact that only recently the four letter network has stopped calling Teddy Bridgewater “Terry.”
ESPN has been a huge part of Louisville’s growth. The Cardinals continue to appear on ESPN networks more and more. This season UofL will be featured on either ESPN or ESPN2 a record seven times.
It truly is a shame that Louisville’s best chance at a national championship is coming a year too early. There is no doubt that the Cardinals would have a lot more respect in the national landscape if Louisville had joined the ACC this season and not next year. However, it’s hard to believe that Teddy Bridgewater and many other key players may not be around for the big leap next season.
Part of an opportunity is making the best of what we are given. Yes, the schedule Louisville will face is plain awful. Yes, a one loss SEC team could hop over Louisville in the national championship conversation. But rarely has college football been this wide open. The SEC has several very strong teams, and could easily beat up on each other. While the Ohio State Buckeyes have a softie schedule as well, several questions have arisen about Urban Meyer’s control over teams. Perhaps the media hoopla could trip up the Bucks. Out west, Oregon and Stanford both face a tough schedule that contain many traps in the decent Pac-12.
For Louisville the plan has to be simple. Win every game. If the football gods won’t give Louisville a shot at the big one; then there isn’t much else they can do. But allowing anyone else but the BCS Computer to ruin that destiny for them would be the biggest disappointment this team could face.
Louisville themed clothing company Big Time Yurts has released a shirt reading “The Time Is Now” with a hat tip to Schnellenberger. Deservedly so, this is the best chance to accomplish Schnellenberger’s prophecy.
The expectations might be high, but Charlie Strong is fully aware of them. He has posted a list of goals in the Louisville locker room. The biggest goal being winning a BCS Bowl.
Strong has smartly been mum on the national title talk. He recently remarked at the Governor’s Cup Luncheon “You don’t ever talk about being a national champion, you just wake up one day and you are a national championship…We never had our goal to win a national championship (at Florida.)”
Strong’s “one game at a time” philosophies have to be taken to heart. As the media began swirling around last year’s Cardinals they were pummeled by a sub-par Syracuse team after starting the season 9-0.
The fans have already committed their part. Louisville Athletics announced Wednesday that not only was the season opener against Ohio a sell out, but the school had sold a record 45,627 season tickets. This broke the previous record of 43,510, an increase of 2,000.
Cardinals fans will be firmly behind their team this season, and its easy to feel the hype and excitement for the team. As the University of Louisville began their fall semester Monday, there appeared to be a sense of good feelings in the air. A “Teddy 4 Heisman’ banner hangs from a house on Greek Row, and best of all there appears to be an all-time shortage of blue shirts wandering around.
As the city descends on Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium this Sunday, expect the hype to reach a fever pitch. What is coming this season is something we haven’t experienced before. Sure, Louisville has had its brushes with undefeated seasons. But this season feels different. Now more than ever, Louisville has a chance to shock the world and make their way to the final showdown in Pasadena.
The Time Is Now.