LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- If you're a University of Louisville football fan, you remember the date. Sept. 22, 2007, Syracuse visited Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, one week after the University of Kentucky had upset the Cardinals on a late touchdown in Lexington.
Syracuse beat U of L 38-35 in one of the biggest upsets against the spread in college football history. The Steve Kragthorpe honeymoon was over, and U of L's run in the Associated Press Top 25, a run of consecutive appearances that began on Sept. 7, 2004, was officially over.
It did not resume until today, just shy of five years later, when the Cards were voted No. 25 in the AP preseason poll heading into Charlie Strong's third season as coach.
After the Cardinals broke camp following a scrimmage this morning, Strong was cautious about the ranking, but did acknowledge it as a positive step.
"It's where this program has come," he said. "You look at it and it's just the respect around the country that we've just been trying to gather for ourselves. But we just know this -- we still have to go perform, no matter where they place us. Our players still understand, two years ago you were picked last in this conference and last year you were picked seventh, and look where you ended up. Now, you're picked where you're picked, but we still have to go perform."
There was a definite pivot in Strong's rhetoric between the Big East Media day, when he feigned surprise at the team being picked to win the league, and the first day of practice, when he exhorted players to "carry yourselves like champions."
And now, not only does he want them to look the part, but dress the part. This week he had a new message for his players' wardrobe habits. When asked if he was proud to have brought the program back to the Top 25, Strong said:
"It's pride in our players. They have to start believing in themselves and they have to start believing in the University of Louisville. I was just telling them, 'Guys, I don't want to see you wearing anyone else's attire. We're the University of Louisville. It's who we are, it's who you represent. If it isn't ours, don't put it on. Let's take pride in being part of an outstanding program."
It's part of that shift in tone, in which Strong has gone from downplaying the value of expectations to challenging his players to live up to them.
"It is a step in the right direction," Strong said of the ranking. "Just look at how hard our players have performed. And to get to this situation, we're looking at nine seniors, but the nine seniors we have really are stable and they really want to get this program to where it needs to be."
Still, sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater downplayed the ranking.
"There is no significance," he said. "We know what our goal is this season. We just want to go out every week and execute our game plan. The ranking will be there. It's just our job to maintain the ranking."
Strong also acknowledged that with the ranking comes responsibility, particularly with the Big East continually under fire in the wake of conference realignment. U of L was the only Big East team ranked, though Boise State, which will join the conference next season, is No. 24.
"It's going to be critical because so much is always said about the Big East," Strong said. "Now we have the stage and we have to go perform. But it's still just about going out and being prepared each week."
In its history, this marks the 11th season in which U of L has made at least one version of the AP poll.
CARDINALS CONCLUDE CAMP WITH SECOND SCRIMMAGE
U of L ran about 110 plays in a two-hour scrimmage in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Saturday morning. The workout was closed to the media and public.
A couple of key defensive players, Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, skipped the scrimmage with what Strong termed minor injuries, but are expected to return to practice soon. Freshman safety Gerod Holliman made the most of his chance at increased playing time, grabbing an interception and returning it for a touchdown.
Strong said that Dominique Brown, Jeremy Wright and Seniorise Perry all ran effectively. Freshman Brandon Radcliff went down with a sprained ankle but, Strong said, "he's going to be okay."
"They're all rotating, every three carries, every four carries," Bridgewater said. "All four of them were getting reps today."
No scrimmage statistics were provided by U of L.
"Offensively today, the first unit performed very well," Strong said. "The second unit needs to clean up some of the procedure penalties. Defensively, the first unit performed well, but the second unit gave up some plays but they were going up against the first offense. Overall, I was very pleased with the scrimmage. We came out of it healthy. We have some nicks and bruises, but we still have some time to get healthy."
After the offense had a clear edge in the first scrimmage of camp, Strong said today's had the kind of balance he expected.
"Even last week, I thought we would've performed better on defense, but our offense came out and played very well. Today it was more what I expected to see," Strong said. " . . . We feel like we have the players in place. Now it's all about them continuing to develop and grow."
While U of L has game officials out consulting on its practices two times a week, letting players know when something they do would result in penalties, in scrimmages officials actually throw flags to get players ready for what will be coming in an actual game.
U of L now moves its players back onto campus after spending camp as a team at the Hilton Garden Inn near the stadium. They'll resume regular game-preparation practice schedules on Monday.
"You don't want to talk about game preparation yet because it's still two weeks away," Strong said. "So it's still about going out and performing. We just need to clean up some things offensively and defensively."
As far as special teams, Strong didn't discuss specifics but said he does like that the team's depth means he can work more players into the action.
"Now is the first time you have core," he said. "I told (special teams coach Kenny) Carter you just need to pick a core. We have enough guys now who are athletic enough and good enough that we shouldn't have to use a lot of starters. Punt is always critical because you like to have your best players on punt team, because if you can block a punt you can change the whole momentum a game. But in kickoff return and kickoff and punt return we have some players we can put out there who are athletic enough to get down the field and cover and drop and block people."
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