BOZICH | Louisville belongs on playoff stage -- and Clemson loss - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville belongs on playoff stage -- and Clemson loss proved it

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Louisville rallied from an 18-point hole but lost to Clemson, 42-36, Saturday. Louisville rallied from an 18-point hole but lost to Clemson, 42-36, Saturday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Alabama won a national championship last season after losing to Mississippi in game three. Ditto for Ohio State in 2014. The Buckeyes lost their second game by two touchdowns to Virginia Tech. Call that a bad loss? I do.

There’s more. Three of the four teams that made the playoffs last season took a defeat during the regular season. Oklahoma took an awful one to a Texas team so bad it put Charlie Strong on the hot seat.

Same story in 2014. The Buckeyes, Alabama and Oregon all played for the championship despite a regular season defeat.

That’s a three-paragraph prelude to these simple words:

Losing an epic collision with Clemson, 42-36, Saturday night in Death Valley does not eliminate Louisville from the 2016 playoffs. This game, coming one play short on the road against a team expected to play for the national title, proved that Louisville belonged in the scrum with Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Michigan and everybody else currently arguing they should be included (a month before the first playoff poll is released, I might add). This loss dinged the Cardinals' record but certified their credentials.

This is not the Bowl Championship Series anymore The four-team playoff has changed all that. When the Associated Press Top 25 is announced Sunday afternoon, I’d be stunned if Bobby Petrino, Lamar Jackson and company dropped lower than fourth from their current spot at third.

Alabama first, Ohio State second, Clemson third, Louisville fourth, Michigan fifth. That's how the AP poll should read.

ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit said the Cards belonged in the playoff fussing on national television before the Clemson fans rushed the field. Chris Fowler agreed. Count me in on keeping the 4-1 Cards center stage in the national discussion. Anybody who watched that slugfest would also have to agree.

A play here. A play there. It wasn't all just on James Quick for not getting that first down. Clemson, a legit national contender, too, just made one more play.

“One loss don’t define your season,” U of L linebacker Keith Kelsey said. “Plenty of teams have gone far with one loss. We’ve just got to keep playing.”

Keep winning. Beat Duke in 12 days. And North Carolina State the week after that. And Virginia the week after that. Win big for style points if necessary

Hope that Houston remains unbeaten when the Cardinals travel to Texas on Nov 17. Louisville needs Houston unbeaten and ranked as highly as possible for that game. That will be a nationally televised statement where Louisville can make a closing argument because the season finale against Kentucky won't carry the same juice.

Hope some crazy things happen to unbeaten teams like Washington, Michigan and Tennessee. Even losses by Miami and Nebraska would help. The list of unbeatens in college football shriveled from 25 to 16 over the weekend.

Finish 11-1 with that six-point loss being the only smudge on the resume and Louisville will have as much reason as anybody to argue that it belongs in the playoff. It will be trickier for the Cards because unless Clemson loses two league games (my advice: don't hold your breath), Louisville will not make the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. The Cards will have to hope the playoff committee looks closely at everybody's resume. They'll have to do great things in the last seven regular-season games.

This was a game that Louisville could have lost big. The Cards trailed by 18 at halftime.

This was a game that Louisville appeared to take over. The Cards scored 26 straight points and led, 36-28, with less than eight minutes to play.

“You’ve got to give props to Lamar,” said Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. “He’s a great player. Louisville’s a great team.”

After disappearing in the third quarter, Clemson scored twice. Louisville did not score again.

The Cards should have scored on the game’s final drive.

The Cards earned a first down at the Clemson 12 on a reception by Reggie Bonnafon with 1:27 to go. Jeremy Smith pounded the ball between the tackles to the Clemson 9.

On second down Jackson scrambled around the right end but was unable to gain a yard. Jackson scrambled again -- amazingly -- on third down but his pass to tight end Cole Hikutini in the end zone was incomplete. Hikutini asked for a flag. He didn't get one. Both sides fussed at the officials often.

A motion penalty did not help, especially after a timeout. 

On fourth and 12, Jackson found James Quick open in the left flat. Quick caught the ball around the 11-yard line. He advanced inside the Clemson 5 but was pushed out of bounds at the 3. No first down. No points.

Ball game.

“We’re going to take this bye week and try to get better,” Bonnafon said. “We’re resilient. We’re not going to quit no matter what the scoreboard says.”

“Louisville played their hearts out,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

“We came too far; we're not quitters,” Kelsey said. “I learned that we’re some fighters. We could have easily come out in the second half and just laid down.”

They did not. Louisville made a string of plays. Clemson made one more. The fight for a place in the playoff discussion did not end. It's just begun.

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