HAMPTON, VA – As classrooms begin to fill with giddy yet tepid children both yearning for and regretting the beginning of yet another school year, so it is with college football fans around Kentucky. From the perspective of this Louisville Cardinal fan, I await the 2015-16 football season with hesitation and skepticism like a child who wants to finally enter junior high but unsure how exactly to feel about it and worried about what might be waiting for him once the school year starts.
Part of me wants to believe that Bobby Petrino’s follow-up seasons in his second stint at the helm of the program will play out as they did after his first season back in the early mid-2000s. The Louisville Football brand became associated with high power offenses and competitiveness and reached new heights still yet unseen since (Top 10 rankings and oh-so-close national title game berth seasons). Can it happen again? If so, how soon?
All indications (recruiting, scheduling, coaching) support the idea that Louisville’s crash course with a national title is coming closer and closer to fruition. But can it happen this season? My gut says no, but my hearts wants to believe that anything remains possible every single day in this crazy world in which we live.
By all accounts, inaugural ACC season was a tremendous success. Last year’s squad showed every naysayer out there that Louisville was the correct pick to supplement the ACC in football. Could Connecticut or Cincinnati or Memphis have replicated our success? A 9-3 regular season mark which saw close losses to Virginia, Florida State, and Clemson and big wins against Miami, Notre Dame, and Kentucky came to an end with an emperor-has-no-clothes loss to Georgia in the Belk Bowl. Our draft class was historic, and the long goodbye and thank you to Charlie Strong is finally complete.
That Belk Bowl is what has me worried about this follow-up season. While I don’t doubt Petrino et al’s ability to coach-up the team, the loss to Georgia showed me that we were, at least then, still playing at a different level of football from the level where we need to play in order to earn an attempt at a national title. I would refrain from saying we are now ready, considering we are only one year removed from that game and what with all the tweaks and additions we have had to deal with.
But, this season will surely be another to remember. There are lots of winnable games on the 2015-16 schedule and I hope the Cardinals keep the Auburn game in perspective if [read: when] we lose in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. I just want to keep it close – a close game cannot be boo-hooed or denounced by anyone. However, if by chance the heavens smile upon this squad and will us to victory, and if we have indeed entered a higher level of play and competition, watch out for the mid-2000s to invade the 2010s. The city will once again erupt into fanaticism and excitement over the next few years and catapult football to near-basketball status.
Will it happen? My guess is not this year. We now enter the final weeks before the new season, and I think I’m more nervous than even the players who will actually play the game. I no longer worry about a lack of clout of respect or national recognition. We have all those now. The only thing missing is the era of good feelings that was the mid-2000s. I want to see my Cards back on the field and trending even further upward, but I’m hesitant to believe whether a continued, sustained rise is favorable.
The possibilities are indeed endless, but we’ll have to wait to see of this will be the year we break into the power status we seek. The lovely Dr. and I will be in North Carolina for either the Wake Forest or the N.C. State game, and I’ll be hoping to see a different outcome than the one we witnessed in Charlottesville. Some say a true barometer is not winning, but actually seeing how you win. That’ll be my goal, and maybe then my hesitance about the future will be quashed.
Here’s looking at you, mid-2000s. Y’all come back now, soon, you hear?