Louisville could have made a bit of a statement Thursday night at home. through no fault of their own, the conference strength in the American Athletic Conference will continue to hold Louisville back when being compared to other teams in the BCS Championship conversation. Maybe the Cardinals would not have been on par with a team like Alabama or Oregon, but what about against a top one-loss team from another power conference or a team like Ohio State. Despite Teddy Bridgewater throwing his 10th career 300-yard game and Louisville topping Rutgers 24-10, the conversation is already focused on what Louisville lacks to be a title contender.
To be fair, there was room for criticism of Louisville Thursday night. The Cardinals had three turnovers on the night, but the defense came up with four turnovers of their own to break even in the turnover margin. Louisville left some points on the scoreboard, having one field goal blocked and missing another long attempt and losing a fumble when Bridgewater was blind sided. It was not the kind of night that a casual college football fan would tune in, watch and go to bed thinking “Man, that Louisville team is awesome.”
That depends on your definition of “awesome.”
One part of the team that shined for Louisville that shined in the national spotlight was the defense. The Cardinals picked off four passes from Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova and sacked him eight times. But the skeptics of Louisville will also note the Scarlet Knights are coming off a short week after playing an overtime game at SMU on Saturday and again hitting the road to play at Louisville. Make no mistake about this though, Louisville can play defense and their numbers are only partially influenced by the level of competition faced.
But here’s something to consider. Great teams will win games even when they are not their sharpest. On Thursday night, that is what Louisville did without their leading wide receiver and while losing another. The offense made mistakes and the special teams had some unfortunate moments, but the defense bailed them out time and time again. Great teams do that.
Is Louisville a great team? That depends on your definition of “great.”
The biggest obstacle for Louisville now may be convincing the voters to evaluate them the way teams in tougher conferences will be addressed. Does Louisville have a chance to play for a BCS title? It is still too early to even entertain that conversation because there are so many variables still left to solve. How many undefeated teams will there be? Who will the top one-loss teams be? Not quite at mid-October, these questions will have to be sorted out before even attempting to figure out how Louisville fits in to the equation.
The challenge for Louisville will be to continue winning games, and doing so by solid winning margins.
Next week Louisville will host another top threat inside the American when Central Florida visits. The Knights already have a win at Penn State and a close loss to South carolina behind them. Central Florida, on paper, is much more battle-tested than Louisville at this point. If Louisville can survive a threat from Central Florida, the Cardinals could very well be on their way to the first undefeated season in school history.
After that, we’ll let the BCS formula solve for “L.”