LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- One day, University of Louisville football fans were doing BCS algebra, trying to figure where their Top 10 football team would fall once all the numbers were crunched in the first BCS ratings of the season.
The next, it didn't matter, because the U of L defense flunked geometry.
For the Cardinals, their dream of an unbeaten season was gone in about 20 minutes, the time it took Central Florida to score 31 points in a 38-35 upset victory.
U of L defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said there was no fancy explanation for the defensive meltdown. It came down to angles and aggression. His defenders didn't tackle well, and they didn't rely on each other. They overpursued plays, took bad angles, and when UCF cut back, they were out of position to stop it.
It's a simple thing.
"A fundamental thing," Bedford said. "You hope they teach it in junior high and high school, and we teach it in college."
Next time a coach talks about fundamentals and your eyes start to glaze over, remember Central Florida. It can be a costly lesson.
Now, the question is whether the Cardinals can ace Psychology.
In looking at this season, it was assumed by most that by now U of L would be playing for a Top 5 national ranking, a BCS bowl opportunity at the least, and an unbeaten season, if not a chance at the BCS championship game, at the most. The psychology, in any event, takes care of itself in those situations. The expectations bring pressure, yes, but it's a good kind of pressure.
Now, the Cardinals face a different situation. They need to keep winning to maintain a chance at a BCS bowl -- which remains a real possibility. But they now need help. And from a psychological standpoint, they probably don't have much of an edge on some former Big East (and Conference USA) rivals who will face them for the last time, and who would love nothing better than to beat them on the way out of the American Athletic Conference door.
South Florida is first in line. USF is made up mostly of Florida athletes who, like Central Florida, have watched U of L's Florida natives get all the press. And they won't get another shot at the Cards for a long time. This is it.
USF has the added incentive that today's noon kickoff might be as close to a bowl game as the Bulls get. Beating Louisville, in fact, could turn the narrative on their first season under head coach Willie Taggart just a bit.
For the Cardinals, the theme this week has been veteran resilience. They've been through the disappointing fall from the unbeaten ranks, but let one loss become two a year ago after falling to Syracuse, then giving up a loss to Connecticut at home. Strong said he watched his team closely when he brought players back together on the Sunday after losing to UCF.
"Well you could just tell after the team meeting and I stood over there talking with them and you can see it. You have a veteran team now and they take it personal and when you show them the tape. They really take it personal," Strong said. "Which is good. That's what you really want, because now you see a program turning. There used to be a time where they take a loss and it was all farts and giggles, but it's no longer like that."
How's it going to be? That's what nobody knows about this U of L football team. Its fan base seems to be able to sense when it is going through the motions sometimes better than its coaching staff does -- or is willing to admit.
Today, at South Florida, we find out whether U of L is going to recharge and get better, or whether it will play out the string like a team that has little left to play for.
Junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has always been the most important player on the field. He'll be even more important the rest of this season. He may need to take a more vocal, aggressive leadership role. It'll be his job to rally teammates. He won't win the Heisman Trophy, but he's still one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, and a likely high first-round draft pick.
If this team feels a sense of loss after Central Florida, it's not getting that idea from Strong.
"We were never going to get where we need to get because of our schedule," Strong said. ". . . We still have five games to play. That's why I tell them all the time it's so important to go game by game and it's so important that you worry about the task at hand and don't worry about what everyone else says. You have to focus on who you're playing."
It's pretty simple. Will the Cardinals allow one bad grade in geometry to drag down its mark in psychology?
It's not the kind of test they wanted to be taking. But they have to pass this if they want to pick up the pieces.