I was tailgating in the parking lot. Perfect weather, good friends, tasty food, a challenging yet thoroughly beatable opponent warming up a half-mile north. These Cards, this group of players and coaches, seemed to be the ones that were going to get us all giddy, to get the University of Louisville, of all schools, into the national football championship conversation.
Already ranked as high as 6th in one poll, with a single player good enough to be in the Heisman Trophy conversation. A team that hadn’t even trailed in six games, a team whose main shortcoming was only winning by two touchdowns in its conference opener. And our conversation turned to this.
My friend Chris brought up a scenario that seemed impossible. Rose Bowl — Louisville vs. Ohio State. No way, I said. But apparently if Oregon were to play in the national title game, that would open a spot for Rose Bowl officials to choose the highest-ranked team remaining to face the destined Big Ten champ, and if only U of L waltzed through its remaining schedule, it would be in the Top Five. It could happen.
Mark complained about the cost of traveling to California. Andy and Dave proclaimed nothing would stop them from going. In my mind, I began imagining the logistics of Pasadena.
Central Florida 38, Louisville 35.
END of that story. From my seat in the Flight Deck, I saw a team that was not nearly as good as advertised, that got exploited by a determined, hungry team that wasn’t intimidated by a big crowd or a 21-point 3rd quarter deficit. There was a bad break (that ball that hit the pylon), a bad decision (Charlie, move them back and hold them on 3rd and 20), and a lot of bad tackling.
Our conversation turned to the American Athletic Conference’s second destination for bowls. And how far poll voters will drop this team. And whether Teddy Bridgewater might come back next year. Why the media investigated the suspension of a basketball player (Chane Behanan) with more vigor and analysis than it did the end of the government shutdown. And Luke Hancock winning Homecoming King. And Male beating Trinity. Life goes on.
This was a perfect night for a perfect team to remain perfect. It was the 100th game at the stadium, and the most heartbreaking, mind-numbing, disappointing.
There will be no talk of undefeated seasons around here for a long time, not when the schedule starts including powerful ACC teams like Florida State and Clemson and then Notre Dame and Auburn start showing up. The next time Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium opens, (for a Nov. 16 match with Houston) it will be colder and significantly more subdued. Parking and traffic will be less of a challenge. And there’s another potential chiller after that (Nov. 23, Memphis). Late November and the over-under on the temperature is 40, and no one wants to sit in the stands to watch meaningless football.
Well, let’s not be so glum. Perhaps Charlie Strong will get his troops to bounce back, and that 2nd-choice bowl game is in Orlando in late December.