Louisville moved to No. 19 in the AP college football poll. Is that too high -- or two low?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Charlie Strong says that he has considerable work to do with this University of Louisville football team. It's basic stuff from the Vince Lombardi playbook – crisper blocking, surer tackling, avoiding cruise control.
Strong prefers to talk to his guys as if they're 0-4, not 4-0, one of 26 unbeaten FBS college football teams.
"I knock ‘em down," Strong said. "They're not going to feel good around me."
Or around me.
Tell them this, Charlie: I've seen dynamic Louisville teams that have surged into the Top 20. This team hasn't applied the sleeper hold and then squeezed the way the 2005 and 2006 teams did.
The Cards moved to No. 17 in the USA Today coaches poll and 19 in the Associated Press writers' poll this week after swimming past Florida International in soggy Miami. I wonder how voters justify voting Louisville 17th or even 19th. What are the credentials?
For me, Louisville is Team Mystery, the most difficult Top 25 team to evaluate and rank.
The Cards haven't beaten anybody that bowl representatives will be scouting in November. They were supposed to have a barbed-wire defense, but they're giving up 5.5 yards per offensive snap.
Looking at the upcoming schedule – winless Southern Miss Saturday, Pittsburgh (loser to Youngstown State), South Florida (loser to Ball State) – the mystery is going to grow until Cincinnati visits Oct. 26.
What was Strong's assessment after watching video of Louisville's seven-point victory at FIU?
"We didn't play at the tempo that we had been playing at," Strong said. "I'd like to see us get better."
Now, here is the rest of the mystery: Maybe the Cardinals are better than 19th or 17th.
I look at several teams ranked ahead of the Cardinals – yes, you, West Virginia and Texas – and wonder if Louisville is underrated.
I try to remember that the 1990 Louisville team began its grind toward the Fiesta Bowl with a tie against San Jose State and a 12-point win against a Kansas team that finished 3-7-1. This team hasn't sustained anything close to its best football and has only trailed for 6 minutes and 42 seconds all season. There's the ability to win, 10, 11, 12 games here.
That's why the only thing safe to say is Louisville is the most mysterious team in the Top 25, impossible to gauge because this schedule. The first four teams the Cardinals have played are a combined 4-12 – and those wins have come against Moe (Kentucky over Kent State), Larry (FIU over Akron), Curly (North Carolina over Elon) and Shemp (UNC over East Carolina).
There is a reason that Louisville sits at Number 42 (Massey) and 33 (Sagarin) in two of the six computer rankings used in the Bowl Championship Series formula.
Of course, before you pile on, make note of this. Another BCS computer formula, Colley-Matrix, ranks Louisville 15th -- ahead of Louisiana State, TCU and USC. A lot of teams have played nobody schedules.
Strong, of course, prefers the 33 or 42. One of the most uplifting things the coach will say about his team is they are winning games by seven points they would have lost by a touchdown last season.
And he won't say that until late in the week. Sunday night Strong watched a replay of kick coverage and wondered how U of L would win another game. Andrell Smith was making a tackle – and five teammates were watching.
"If you want to watch, I'll get you a ticket in the stands," Strong said. "I can get you a ticket so you can watch this play.
"When I try to knock ‘em down, I try to show the whole unit, this is how we can get better. When you do show them the bad plays, some of them kind of sit there and squirm."
That's got to be how voters in the college football polls feel as they squirm and try to evaluate the most mysterious team in college football.