Over the last three years the Louisville Cardinals have gone 26-13, while they are 17-7 within the Atlantic Coast Conference. Two of the last three years have seen Louisville finish ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll as they have become one of the better programs in college football. But one thing that has hurt Louisville has been their inability to take care of business in the big games.
Since 2014, the Cardinals are 1-5 versus ranked opponents with their lone win coming at home last season versus the Florida State Seminoles whom they whalloped 63-20. And as the Cards have struggled versus ranked opponents, it won’t help the program’s chances to take things to the next level.
Following the national championship that the Clemson Tigers were able to claim last season, key players such as quarterback Deshaun Watson departed which made the road to an Atlantic Coast Conference Championship for Louisville in 2017 that much easier. And when Florida State sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois was lost for the season after suffering a patellar tendon injury in their first game, the conference crown was Louisville’s for the taking.
But Louisville has been unable to answer the bell as on September 16, they fell at home to Clemson by the score of 47-21, while this past Thursday saw them lose on the road to the North Carolina State Wolfpack. The Cards are now 4-2 and 1-2 within the Atlantic Coast Conference. And with Clemson looking like they are not going to skip a beat, the Cards chances of winning the ACC this year are very slim.
For Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino, this is another in a long line of disappointments in his coaching career. During Petrino’s first run at Louisville in 2006, his Cards had a chance to play for the national title until a late season road loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights changed that. The Cardinals would finish 12-1 which included defeating the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Orange Bowl, but they were left to ponder what could have been. During Petrino’s tenure as the head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, his best years were in 2010 and 2011 when his teams only lost a combined five games. But three of those losses came to the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers which prevented Arkansas from winning the Southeastern Conference, while his Razorbacks became the first SEC school to lose to the Ohio State Buckeyes in a bowl game. And after Louisville began 2016 with a record of 9-1, they would go on to lose their final three games by a combined 49 points.
But it wasn’t supposed to be like this for Louisville in 2017; especially since they had junior quarterback Lamar Jackson under center as he is the reigning Heisman Trophy Award winner returning to school. Jackson is putting together another Heisman caliber season as he has thrown 14 touchdowns to just 4 picks, while combining for 2,500 all-purpose yards. However his teammates have been unable to answer the bell which falls into the lap of Petrino.
Petrino has been known for his wide-open offenses that score in bunches, but his teams have always lacked physicality regardless if he was running things at Arkansas or Louisville which always tends to show up in the big games. And if you watch the film of each of Louisville’s losses this season, they were defeated by teams that were more physical than them as they simply wanted it more.
So now that winning the Atlantic Coast Conference is out of the window for Louisville, how will they able to finish their season? The Cards will host the Boston College Eagles next Saturday. The Eagles should not pose that much of a threat to the Cardinals as they are 117th in the nation in total offense. However October 21st will see Louisville travel to face Florida State who has not forgotten about the 43-point beat down that they received last season. And the ‘Noles will be up for that contest regardless of who their starting quarterback is. After tangling with Florida State, the Cards will face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Virginia Cavaliers who are each improved teams this year, while their regular season finale will come against the Kentucky Wildcats who defeated Louisville last year.
Louisville is still in a very good position to make their eighth consecutive bowl game, however this was supposed to be their year. But as Clemson is still looking like the class of the Atlantic Coast Conference, while the Miami Hurricanes as well as the Virginia Tech Hokies are on the verge of once again becoming national powers, while the Seminoles are looking to get back to flexing their muscles, the chances of Petrino having one of the top programs within the conference could soon be dwindling. And when it’s all said and done, Louisville will look back at 2016 as well as 2017 and wonder what could have been.