Charlie Strong reminded his team that UCF could stumble the way Louisville stumbled at the end of last season.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When the calendar flipped into November last season, the University of Louisville was a three-inch, absolutely straight, totally downhill putt from winning the Big East football championship.
The Cardinals had played nine games and won nine games, including their first four in the league. They were ranked ninth in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
Who could stop them?
None of the sad sacks in the Big East.
Syracuse stopped them – by 19 emphatic points in the Carrier Dome. Then Connecticut came to Papa Johns' Cardinal Stadium as an 11-point underdog and won. It took some unlikely hocus pocus for the Cardinals to eventually win the league and get their opportunity to punish Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Now it is Central Florida looking at a putt like the one that Louisville rolled out of the cup last season. The Knights have four games to win – and they'll be favored by double figures against all four sad sacks on their schedule, starting with a trip to Philadelphia, where UCF is favored to beat Temple by 16 Saturday.
Now Louisville needs even more November hocus pocus than the Cardinals needed a year ago.
Who can stop UCF? Could the Knights lose?
Hey, Lindsay Lohan told the truth once. Anything can happen.
The bowl predictions have the Knights playing Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl or South Carolina in the Sugar Bowl. Read it and wince.
The Cards have been re-routed to play Virginia Tech or Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Dec. 28. Nobody was predicting that in August. Or September. Or early October.
"I said to (my players) yesterday – a year ago we were 9-0," Strong said. "No one ever thought it was going to happen. We go into Syracuse and they slap us good. We come back home against a Connecticut team and get beat. Then we have to go win the last weekend on the road (at Rutgers).
"That can very easily happen. We just have to make sure we take care of our business."
Louisville returns home to play Houston Saturday night. Strong is right – and Strong is wrong. It can happen. But I'd pause, take a cleansing breath and take a clearer look at UCF's closing schedule before I'd say it can "very easily happen."
Temple, Rutgers, South Florida and Southern Methodist, UCF's final four opponents, have a combined record of 11-22. Not one team in that group is ranked in the Top 80 nationally in Jeff Sagarin's college football computer rankings. They're the American Athletic Conference's version of Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp – Temple (131), Rutgers (84), USF (140) and SMU (112).
Could Central Florida lose?
Sure. Joe DiMaggio struck out. Kobe Bryant double-dribbled. Walter Payton fumbled. Louisville coughed up the lead in the Big East last season.
Temple beat Army, which beat Louisiana Tech, which beat UTEP … oh, never mind.
But after losing only one of its first eight, UCF actually needs to lose two of its last four because the Cardinals cannot win a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Knights. Louisville's penalty for the way its defense melted down over the final 20 minutes in the Cardinals' home loss to UCF last month will likely be a trip to a lesser bowl game in Orlando, Charlotte or New York City.
"I just told them that we're still alive for a BCS, so let's keep playing," Strong said. "It's not so much where we're going to end. Guys, we can still go win this conference. If you look at it, Central Florida still has four games left, we have three. So let's keep playing."
Playing – and hoping that UCF gets the yips the same way Louisville got the yips last season.