CRAWFORD | At No. 7 in first CFP rankings, Louisville has come a - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | At No. 7 in first CFP rankings, Louisville has come a long way, still has a long climb

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford
Eric Crawford's first Louisville football story, from June 28, 2000 (Courier-Journal archive) Eric Crawford's first Louisville football story, from June 28, 2000 (Courier-Journal archive)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — For some reason, my mind wandered back through its archives tonight. I paged back through a lot of years — literally. Fishing around on The Courier-Journal’s archive service, where I spend far more time than I ought to admit, I landed on what I believe to be the first story I ever wrote about University of Louisville football.

It was the summer before the 2000 season, and I’d bought all of the preseason magazines by that point. Most of them picked the Cardinals to finish fifth in Conference USA. On the day of this story, July 26, 2000, C-USA coaches picked the Cardinals to finish third.

That was a step up. Louisville was still looking up at Southern Miss and East Carolina, and depending on who you asked, maybe Memphis and UAB, too.

I went back to that because the first College Football Playoff rankings came out Tuesday night, and there was an unmistakeable feeling of deflation among my Louisville fan friends when the Cardinals were ranked No. 7 nationally in the rankings that will eventually determine college football's four-team playoff.

ESPN’s Paul Finebaum looked at the rating and said Louisville was the “biggest loser of the evening,” because he didn’t see a clear path to the playoffs for the Cardinals from there.

Maybe that’s so. Louisville is ranked No. 5 nationally by the Associated Press. But even had they earned that ranking from the CFP selection committee, this isn’t like war. Just because you hold ground doesn’t mean you can keep it.

The fact is, after losing narrowly at Clemson last month, the Cards were going to need a lot of help to get to the playoff. They still do.

Is No. 7 a legitimate ranking for this team? I thought Louisville would be sixth, behind Ohio State. I also thought Alabama, Clemson and Michigan would rank 1-2-3, which they did. I had Washington fourth. The committee had Texas A&M fourth. I didn’t see that coming.

This feels a bit like the committee leaning heavily on the computers. Texas A&M has a strength of schedule of No. 23 nationally in the Sagarin ratings. It has a win over Auburn -- but I'm not sure that's more impressive than Louisville's 63-20 win over Florida State. It beat a wobbly Tennessee team at home. It beat a bad South Carolina team by 11 and a bad UCLA team by a touchdown. It also has wins over Prairie View and Arkansas. It lost to Alabama 33-14. There’s nothing truly special there. You want to rank them above Louisville on the strength of the Auburn win, that’s fine. But I don’t think they belong in the playoff today above Ohio State. 

These teams played in the Music City Bowl a year ago. Texas A&M fans would tell you that team was a shadow of the team it is now. Guess what — that Louisville team was a shadow of what it is now.

Louisville won the game. Lamar Jackson ran and passed all over them, and didn’t even know the offense.

Anyway, from the Louisville standpoint, there’s not much you can do but win and wait. And the fact is, the Cardinals didn’t do much at Virginia to warrant inclusion in a playoff. A game-winning TD pass with 13 seconds left isn’t exactly making a statement.

Cardinal fans point to Ohio State’s close wins, and its loss. Fine. But Northwestern is a far better team than Virginia. You can’t compare those close wins. The Buckeyes have beaten Oklahoma, Wisconsin and lost to Penn State — all three now ranked — and still have Nebraska and Michigan left to play.

So what does Louisville do from here. Win. Win impressively. Style points matter. Frustrated? Take it out on someone.

Win out, and the Cardinals figure to go to the Orange Bowl, at worst. I was there when Louisville first went to the Orange Bowl. For most of its fans, it was a dream come true. I figured it was a one-time deal. Maybe it isn’t.

Lamar Jackson is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Do you realize what it would mean to Louisville to have a Heisman Trophy winner? It’s a brand, frankly, as powerful as the College Football Playoff.

The ranking was disappointing. But the Cardinals are in the neighborhood they want to be in, and these problems of worrying about College Football Playoff rankings are first-world college football problems. Better to be left out than never considered.

It’s a long way from trying to catch Southern Miss and East Carolina. When you’re in a group that includes Texas A&M and Michigan and Ohio State and Alabama, you’re in a good place.

Louisville still has a chance to accomplish unprecedented things this season. Best not to get caught up in a number, but to play out the season and see where that success leads.

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