Preview 2017: Is Louisville College Football’s Sugar Rush?
Louisville football sure was fun, but was there any substance behind the show?
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2016 Louisville football was like eating a giant bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs for breakfast. It sure was fun, it sure was exciting, and it sure was rough when the crash came.
Oh sure, there was a wonderful prize at the bottom of the box – a Heisman Trophy! – but there was little nutritional value and the hunger came back by 10:30 am.
Louisville was amazing to watch early on. The 63-20 win over Florida State was breathtaking. Lamar Jackson was brilliant in his Heisman-winning performance against Clemson in a 42-36 loss, with the team’s ill-fated comeback attempt on the road considered a noble loss. Rolling to a 9-1 start was outstanding.
But for all the fireworks from the nation’s No. 3 offense that averaged over 42 points per game, and for all the great plays from a defense that finished 12th in the nation against the run, and for all the blowouts up until mid-November, Louisville demolished Florida State, and that’s about it.
Crushing a solid NC State team was fun, and rolling on the road against Boston College was great, but the Cardinals ended up beating just four bowl teams. Other than the win over the Noles – Wake Forest was the other win, along with beating the Wolfpack and Eagles – none of those victories were against killers.
And then came the nationally televised meltdown against Houston – when the offensive line, apparently, decided not to make the trip – the follow up disaster against Kentucky, and the ugly bowl performance against LSU that made all the great things that happened earlier in the season seem like a bit of a mirage.
At the end of it all, Louisville won nine games. That’s one more than it won in 2015, the same it came up with in 2014, and three fewer than it cranked up in 2013.
Yeah, the Cardinals at least won a share of the ACC Atlantic crown, but no one’s wearing a t-shirt hyping that up.
But even though the you-are-what-your-record-is final outcome might not have been exactly what UofL fans might have liked after the way everything started, at least it proved that the program has the ability to still be a major factor. Even in a season when Florida State was loaded with elite recruiting superstars, and Clemson was good enough to win the national title, the Cardinals still owned a great deal of the spotlight.
Bobby Petrino – going back to his first stint as the head coach of the program from 2003 to 2006 – has won nine games or more in six of his seven years at Louisville, and now he’s doing it with a style and flair that could take things to a whole other level once the next wave of talent comes through.
But was that it? With Florida State loaded and Clemson terrific again, can the Cardinals possibly recreate the same magic, but sustain it this time for a full season?
Lamar Jackson is going to be Lamar Jackson – and now he’ll be auditioning for the NFL. He might not have all the same weapons around him, but if healthy, the group of running backs will be solid, the receiving corps has young talent ready to bust through, and both starting tackles are back.
The quarterback depth is a concern if Jackson takes one big shot on one of his scrambles, and the interior of the line has to be worked on, but it’s a Petrino team – the offensive fireworks will be there.
A few of the All-ACC stars are gone from the defensive side, but eight – nine if you want to get technical – starters are back from a group that might have had problems late in the season, but overall, didn’t receive enough credit with all the attention focused on Jackson and the O.
There are road games against North Carolina, NC State and Kentucky, and the revenge moment for Florida State might be coming in Tallahassee, but the Clemson showdown is in Papa John’s, and even with that trip to Lexington, the non-conference schedule isn’t all that bad.
Everything is set up for another nine-win campaign – at least. This time around, though, with all the returning experience, and with the superstar still under center, even if Louisville isn’t quite as tasty, the end result might be more satisfying.