CRAWFORD | Louisville's top 10 football wins: Where does Notre D - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Louisville's top 10 football wins: Where does Notre Dame rank?

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This kind of list is always a sketchy proposition, but it begs to be compiled after the University of Louisville's 31-28 win at Notre Dame Saturday.

Where does that game rank among U of L's all-time greats? And what wins in U of L history were the most important.

Here are one writer's nominations. Namely, mine. They skew toward some more recent wins, I see having compiled them, but I believe there's good reason for that. What the program has accomplished since 1991 is the bulk of its meaningful history at college football's highest level — though certainly not all of it.

And getting into a so-called “Power 5” conference has been the culmination of all that history, and crucial to the program's continued success.

So here are my nominations for 10 biggest wins in program history, with some of my reasons why. (I've included some links to stories I wrote from some of the games, where I could get them. Some I could not find online.) Let the debate begin . . .

1. 2013 Sugar Bowl (Louisville 33, Florida 23). Not only did it come against a Florida team ranked No. 3 in the nation, but it came at a crucial time. It gave the program a stamp of legitimacy. The bowl bid came just a week or so after U of L was invited to join the ACC. It also marked a decisive win for Charlie Strong's team against a Florida program that had been an established SEC power. In just his third season after taking over a program that was reeling, it sent a strong statement about the program's strength moving forward. (My column from the game).

2. 1991 Fiesta Bowl (Louisville 34, Alabama 7).
Beating a name program like Alabama was an improbable accomplishment for this program, even if Alabama wasn't at its best. U of L got into the event because of the reluctance of other schools to play in the game because of Arizona's stance on the Martin Luther King holiday, but it made the most of the opportunity and set a foundation for what was to come, a new stadium, and a new identity.

3. 2007 Orange Bowl (Louisville 24, Wake Forest 13). Louisville's first BCS bowl win, after years of trying, gave the program legitimacy in its first year in the Big East Conference. Some fans were disappointed that U of L got Wake Forest in the game instead of a higher-profile opponent, but the bowl trip allowed U of L athletic director Tom Jurich to kick off fundraising for a Papa John's Cardinal Stadium expansion, and the victory further established U of L's program as a perennial Top 25 presence. That would end for a time after Bobby Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons shortly after the win. (My column from the game, part of Courier-Journal coverage.)

4. 1993 Liberty Bowl (Louisville 18, Michigan State 7).
When Howard Schnellenberger's Cardinals beat  Michigan State in a come-from-behind victory led by QB and game MVP Jeff Brohm, it was the program's first victory over a Big Ten opponent. It also culminated what to this day remains the most difficult schedule in U of L history. The Cardinals faced four ranked teams that season, beating No. 23 Arizona State early in the year before losing to No. 24 West Virginia, No. 7 Tennessee and No. 11 Texas A&M. Among U of L's victories over unranked teams that year was a 45-10 win over Texas and a 29-7 beating of Pittsburgh. Two seasons after the Fiesta Bowl win, the game cemented U of L's position as an emerging program, and helped pave the way to enter Conference USA, though that move would prompt the departure of Schnellenberger a year later.

5. 2006 “Blackout” win over West Virginia (Louisville 44, West Virginia 34). With WVU ranked No. 3 nationally and U of L at No. 6, it was one of the biggest spotlight games played in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and came on a Thursday night national television stage. The victory earned U of L its highest national ranking ever, at No. 3, and helped pave the way for an Orange Bowl trip. (My story from the game from The C-J, pay required.)

6. 2002 win over No. 4 Florida State in the rain (Louisville 26, Florida State 20).
This one would have been higher had it meant more in the overall scheme. U of L had taken some disappointing losses going into the game. The Cardinals were 2-2 coming in, having lost to Kentucky 22-17 in their opener (after earning a No. 17 preseason ranking) and had lost at No. 24 Colorado State 36-33. But in a deluge -- the remnant of Hurricane Isidore -- at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, the Cardinals used a Henry Miller touchdown in overtime to upset the No. 4-ranked Seminoles. Pieces of the goalposts torn down by fans still can be found around town from a game that far outlives the 7-6 season in which it occurred, which wound up being the last for head coach John L. Smith.

7. 2006 blowout of Miami. (Louisville 31, Miami 7).
The Cardinals had lost to an outstanding Miami team two years earlier — but it had been close, 41-38. A big punt return by Miami's Devin Hester and a dropped interception by Kerry Rhodes had been the key plays. This time, Louisville left nothing to chance, pounding the No. 17 Hurricanes. A deep pass from Brian Brohm to Mario Urrutia, in which Urrutia stiff-armed a defender as he streaked to the end zone, remains an iconic play of the first Petrino era at U of L, and the win singled the completion of a process for Petrino in building a BCS-level football team.

8. 2014 win at Notre Dame. (Louisville 31, Notre Dame 28).
Notre Dame isn't what it once was. But it still, in some ways, represents what it always has. U of L has been a better team than Notre Dame in quite a few seasons during the past decade, but hadn't gotten a game with the Fighting Irish, despite Tom Jurich's best efforts. With the game finally on the schedule (and three more set in coming years), U of L was able to take advantage, with true freshman Reggie Bonnafon running for two touchdowns and throwing for another. Yes, this Notre Dame team is reeling. But only 10 teams in the 84-year history of Notre Dame Stadium have won in their first visit to the building. On Saturday, U of L became one of them. Louisville missed out on a lot of history by not being part of a major conference. This kind of win helps build more. (My WDRB column on Reggie Bonnafon's night).

9. 1958 Sun Bowl. (Louisville 34, Drake 20).
It was Louisville's first bowl win, and they didn't just hand out bids in those days. In fact, there were only seven bowl games after the 1957 season. The game ended a near-perfect season for Frank Camp and the Cardinals. U of L finished 9-1, with the only loss coming to Kent State. Lenny Lyles was the star for that team, having led the Cards all season, but they had to win the bowl game without him after he went down with an injury in the first quarter. Louisville's program had been through a lot. It had some early success, before a school president decided to emphasize athletics over academics and cut its funding. With the hiring of Frank Camp, in 1946, he brought the program back after a three-year hiatus following World War II. In just his second season back, he led the Cards to a 7-0-1 record, and in 1950 coached the Cardinals to a 13-13 tie at No. 9 Miami that, were I including ties, would be one of the games on this list. The Cards returned home to a greeting from 5,000 fans and mayor Charles R. Farnsley. Of course, a year later, he signed a little-known quarterback named Johnny Unitas.

10. 2013 win at Rutgers. (Louisville 20, Rutgers 17). This one might surprise you being on this list. But coming just hours before U of L received an invitation to the ACC, it kicked off a heady series of events for U of L. First off, Teddy Bridgewater's performance was the stuff of legend. He limped off the bench with a wrist fracture and a badly sprained ankle and wound up throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns with 16 seconds of each other that were the difference between another average season and Louisville earning a berth in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The far-reaching impact of that one performance probably can't be underestimated. Sometimes, games are about more than their scores. With a number of games on this list, that's certainly the case. (My story on Bridgewater's accomplishment.)

One problem with these kinds of stories is that you inevitably leave games out. I'd encourage fans to add games they think belong here in the comments section, or just to chime in with your most memorable Louisville football game.

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