The 2016-17 college football season started perfectly for the Louisville Cardinals. Sensational performances by Lamar Jackson that sprang the sophomore into the Heisman conversation, a 63-20 blowout win over FSU, and a top-5 ranking going into Death Valley. All things considered, it couldn’t have been a better start. Then a loss at Clemson by half a yard put the team on an awkward, slow moving down-slope. It didn’t take long for that down-slope to get steep.
After an unveiling of the infamous CFP rankings had Louisville at No. 5, just one spot out of the coveted top-4, something happened to the Louisville Cardinals we had watched all the way up until that point in the season. Louisville had a chance to get another marquee victory on the road against Houston, a game that didn’t have the glamour many believed it would have after Houston sputtered through injuries and fell out of the top-25, but still it was a huge game. Louisville came out flat against a hyped Houston team that simply wanted nothing more than to throttle the No. 5 ranked Cardinals. They did just that, no one really knows what exactly happened that game, but everyone wants to forget it ever happened at all. Louisville would end the season with a loss at home to UK, and a loss in the bowl game to LSU, with seemingly no adjustments or changes following the Houston game. It was a horrific end coupled with a spectacular beginning. However, to add some optimism, Lamar Jackson became the University of Louisville’s first ever Heisman winner, which certainly brought fans back to reality that we have another year with arguably the best player to ever wear a Cardinal uniform.
Returning Heisman winner, they have to be a top-10 team entering next season, right? Well, wrong actually according to the “experts”. Apparently the glaring holes on the offensive line were too much to be improved on in the offseason, even with the addition of former-OL coach Mike Summers. Or, maybe it was the dropped passes by receivers last year that just can’t be improved on. Of course, it could be the same “experts” believe Lamar reached his ceiling last year, right? Wrong.
While the offensive line woes were abysmal to watch, the offseason is time to improve and with incoming talent and added depth on the O-Line, to discount a new group with a new coach is very premature. The receivers may have dropped a few too many passes last year, but this year’s receiving corps is almost entirely different with the exception of Jaylen Smith (who had a breakout sophomore year) and sparingly-used Seth Dawkins (who was a true freshman last season), so why is last year’s group that’s gone being associated with this year’s group that arguably already has more talent and certainly has more potential. I had to save the most absurd reason for leaving Louisville out of the top-10 in the preseason, because anyone who thinks Lamar reached his ceiling last year needs their TV time taken and their credentials revoked. The guy went from a hit-or-miss freshman with a great finish to his first year to a dominant sophomore that could only be slowed down by the inabilities of the gentlemen blocking for him. Personally, I’m glad there are people crazy enough to still doubt him because that’s what fuels the young man, and the last thing any team, coach, analyst, or reporter wants to do is piss off the player that won the Heisman last year.
There may be question marks, seniors may have been lost, and last year’s close to the season definitely causes for concern. However, good coaches and good players adapt and adjust. This is not a team that you will want to sleep on, this is a team that sniffed what being a powerhouse is last season. Should they get that opportunity again, which they will, they will not let it go as easily as they did last year. Preseason rankings don’t mean much, but they are definitely bulletin board in the lockerroom motication. The last thing a team spearheaded by the most dangerous player in college football needs, is motivation.
This is a title-contender, don’t let anyone tell you differently. They will complete and like most teams, they could suffer setbacks, but don’t think for a second this year’s team will end the season the same way last year’s team did. The question marks will be filled with exclamation points, the doubts will be replaced by confidence, and the reigning Heisman winner will have a message for the nation by September 16th when Clemson comes to town. This is his year.<