In a football season that was historically great for the ACC, Louisville was one of the few ACC teams that ended the season on sour note. Louisville was at one time a legitimate playoff contender, to losing their final 3 games. Cardinal QB Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman was a definite year ending highlight, but Louisville collapsed down the stretch.
On November 17, the Cardinals were the #3 ranked team in the country. That night they lost 36-10 Houston. The Cougars were decent enough. They beat Oklahoma to open the year, but Houston’s win over Louisville was their last of the year. Then Louisville took a home loss to a very average Kentucky team, that lost 6 games. Finally the season ended with listless 29-9 defeat at the hands of LSU.
So who was Louisville exactly? The Top 5 team from the first 2 months of the season that had a near perfect performance against a FSU team or the one that wasn’t even a top 5 ACC team by the end of the year? Well before the season started they probably were a 9-4 type team top 25 team which is where they ended up. Defensively Louisville wilted down the stretch. Louisville was led by a Sophomore QB Lamar Jackson, and they’ll start 2017 with a new defensive coordinator.
Their season actually reminded me of another ACC team’s season – The Clemson Tigers of 2011. That 2011 season showed both their potential and where they needed to improve. Clemson finally became a national champion in 2016, due in part to changes made from that 2011 season.
In 2011 Clemson opened the year 8-0. They beat 3 straight ranked teams in succession – Auburn, Florida State, and Virginia Tech. The win over Virginia Tech was a dominanting 23-3 win in Blacksburg. Then ranked #6 Clemson lost 31-17 at Georgia Tech. There were more losses coming, blowout defeats to NC State and South Carolina. The Tigers managed to beat Virginia Tech to win the ACC, but then there was the Orange Bowl debacle in a 70-33 loss against West Virginia. The Tigers finished 10-4 and ranked in the top 25. Defensively Clemson wilted down the stretch. Clemson was led by a Sophomore QB Tajh Boyd, and they started the 2012 with a new defensive coordinator. That’s sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it?
From that 2011 season, Clemson hired DC Brent Venables who improved the defense. Years of solid recruiting rebuilt the offensive and defensive lines into units that would stand up the entire year, and eventually led to this year’s national title.
Louisville has a schedule that is conducive to going 11-1 or 10-2. The non-conference schedule is light with Purdue, Kent State, Murrary State, and Kentucky. They get Clemson at home. Only road games at FSU and UNC look especially tough, but I don’t think the Cardinals are a national title threat yet. If Lamar Jackson stays for his senior year it’s a possibility in 2018, or if the Cardinals recruit well maybe soon after. Bobby Petrino didn’t forget how to coach. He’s still one of the best offensive minds in college football.
Like Clemson before them, they have to get better at the lines of scrimmage through recruiting. In a season that ended with a thud, let’s not forget what Louisville did to a very talented Florida State team, and how they came within a play beating eventual national champion Clemson. We saw what Louisville was capable of against 2 college football powers, FSU and Clemson. Those are teams that have won 2 of the last 4 national titles.
Louisville is going to be a intriguing program to follow the next 2 or 3 years to see if they develop the way Clemson did.