An audacious proclamation. Especially from a coach, who once wondered why a bunch of skinny English rock & rollers were hanging in his charge’s bare bones Fairgrounds locker room.
As much as its utterance continues to induce bemused grins, it has become mantra among the faithful, a prophecy yet but inevitably to be consummated.
“We’re on a collision course with the national championship, the only variable is time.”
Thus there is an apprehension this pigskin preseason unlike any the Cardinal Nation has endured before.
With as many or more returning starters than any of the other national contendas, an upper echelon football mind on the sideline starting to get his groove fully back, a stadium as modern and plush if not as large as any across the land and a schedule that will give cause for the nation’s pundits to take notice, there is a quiet hope that many denizens of Papa J’s are almost scared to vocalize.
Seat belts are being fastened.
This. Could. Be. The. Year.
Truth: It is not too delusional to wonder whether the upcoming 2016 U of L season could unfold for the school’s football program as ’80 or at least ’59, ’72 and ’75 did for Cardinal hoops.
It is not beyond the pale to believe. To postulate that Louisville might be one of the last four standing. Or, dare it be uttered, mo’ betta than that. As in crystal football trophy carryin’ Wearers of the Crown.
Take a deep breath with me, fans. It’s a game at a time, you know. First up, 49ers.
* * * * *
Louisville’s flirtations in the past with the upper echelon were relatively unanticipated, alas fleeting. Which is why this preseason’s grab the Prilosec discomfort seems alien, not simply tailgate-induced bratwurst heartburn.
This whole climb up the mountain started in December of ’84, when a hundred or so of us stood in the rotunda of the Administration building, as AD Bill Olsen confirmed the coup of his stint as U of L AD, introducing Howard Schnellenberger as the new Cardinal football coach, replacing Bob Weber.
Three losing seasons, a couple of up and down but winning campaigns later, Coach
Quote steered U of L to a 9-1-1 regular campaign Through luck, political circumstance and the force of The Schnell’s supersized personality, Louisville ended up in the Fiesta Bowl. Where it throttled the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide, 34-7, in a rout not that close.
Then, uh, nuttin’ honey. Air outta the balloon. Back to also random. 2-9. 5-6. Just a single additional bowl appearance during the Schnellenberger Era, a nice but relatively meaningless 18-7 W over the Spartans in Memphis.
Then Howard, not conceptualizing the long term future of the sport and wanting to stay independent, petulantly abandoned ship. He slipped away with his cheerleading bride Beverlee to become Supreme Commander Sooner Nation. (At least until OU prexy David Boren, a man of considerable ego himself along with legit power, said, “Uh, I don’t think so.”)
The coming years were generally fallow. U of L was Coopered and John L.ed. Despite a modest uptick under Smith, he rode outta Dodge, inking a deal with Michigan State before the Cards were dismantled by Marshall in Mobile’s Car Loan Bowl.
Then offensive savant Bobby Petrino arrived. U of L was Roethlisbergered in a return to that same bowl game his first season, but against mid-major C-USA competition, Louisville ascended again. The Cards were Devin Hestered out of an undefeated season in Petrino Era I Season 2. The following year, U of L came within a FG in Jersey of playing in the last game of the season for all the marbles.
Sayonara Bobby P.
Hello Steve Kragthorpe, whose first act as Cardinal coach was hanging a left into a Papa J’s mensroom as a phalanx of cameras focused on his entrance at his introductory press conference. He shoulda stayed in the loo.
Charlie Strong displayed mettle. His third squad ripped Florida’s Gators in the Sugar Bowl, a dismantlement as impressive as that Fiesta Bowl W a score of years before.
Had it really been that long since U of L was in the national pigskin conversation?
Correct answer: Yes.
* * * * *
Now, finally, joyously, inevitably (???), the Cards are back in that discussion.
Hope springs, you know, to coin a phrase . . . eternal.
The questions are many, but answerable.
Will Tobijah Hughley really morph into the OL centerpiece as he coaches say he has? Will the rest of his crew mature, and backups evolve?
Will James Quick finally have the season that’s been expected since he chose to play on Floyd Street, instead of in scarlet and gray along the banks of the Olentangy?
Will Lamar Jackson become comfortable enough under center that Brandon Radcliffe’s running game returneth?
Will the D put up numbers all season like it did the second half of last? Will Stacy Thomas return from his mysterious medical condition, so the LB corps will meet their highly ranked expectations?
Will Jaire Alexander continue to develop into one of the nation’s best returners and secondary pass stoppers?
Who will emerge to kick and punt, and will he suffice?
The path is clear, but arduous.
Stay injury free and take care of biz against Charlotte and the Orange. Nudge the Seminoles at home as Louisville did in ’02, on a night so stormy some fans’ clothes still haven’t dried. (Alabama can survive a home L and still make it to the CFP. U of L probably cannot.)
Then not think ahead to its sojourn to the Valley of Death, and survive the trap that awaits in Huntington. Where ever feisty Marshall, with its five straight bowl Ws and three straight seasons of 10+ victories, has won 20 of its last 21 battles.
Be respectable, win or lose, at Clemson.
Have a good and healing rest before establishing its props at home and on the road in the league before . . .
. . . rendering the payback in Houston, where the pressbox will be full with national media attention, ready to anoint the Cardinal vs. Cougar victor as the CFP interloper.
Then put the whipped cream and cherry on the regular season with a sixth straight whupping of “Big Brother.”
* * * * *
Is this the year?
Is that fabled collision imminent for Cardinal pigskin?
But I have put my season ticket insurance carrier on notice.
— Seedy K