Charlie Strong's Louisville Cardinal football team might be better than even he thinks.
I recently ran into sportswriter Jacque Troussant of the Hokum, La. Times-Dispatch while on a trip to Lexington. If one will remember, Troussant is the sportswriter who ranked the Louisville Cardinals football team No. 2 in the nation on his preseason AP ballot.
Troussant, who has covered SEC football for 15 years for the Times-Dispatch (after graduating from Louisiana State University at Hokum), is roundly considered a college football expert. And after talking with him for a considerable length of time, I learned he has some extremely interesting and illuminating thoughts on the state of college football, in particular, the Louisville football Cardinals.
After hearing his reasons for ranking UofL so high on his preseason ballot, I couldn't resist, so I asked Troussant if he would agree to an interview with A Sea of Blue, so he could share his thoughts with the BBN. He quickly agreed. So off to Texas Roadhouse we went, where an epiphany awaited. For as we talked over our rib eyes and iced tea, it began to dawn on me, for at last I knew why Louisville football fans have visions of grandeur dancing through their heads ...
ASoB: Louisville, coming off a 7-6 season and bowl loss to NC State (and defensive coordinator Mike Archer), doesn't seem to possess the resume' or roster of a No. 2 ranked team in the nation. Why did you see fit to rank the Cards so high?
JT: "Well, when I rank teams, whether it be at the beginning of the season or in the middle of the year, I rank them based on my projection of how their season will play out. For example, I might look at Alabama as a national title contender, but will the Tide lose one game or less, and win the SEC Championship game? Because that's what they'll have to do if they hope to end the year ranked No. 1. So it's difficult at the beginning of the year, to rank Bama and a few others at the No. 1 spot, because they play brutal schedules and plus, for the Tide, repeating is always tough.
"So, as an AP voter voting for my top few teams, I'm looking for either a powerhouse, or a good team capable of winning all its games."
ASoB: I understand your philosophy, but that doesn't explain why you ranked Louisville No. 2.
JT: "Actually it does. When I look at Louisville the first thing I notice is the Cards' schedule. Which makes me think, 'now that's a team that could run the tables. That's a team, in a BCS conference, that could win every game on its slate and end the year ranked' ... well, at least in the top three or four teams in the country."
ASoB: Not to challenge your thinking at all, but you think a team that lost last year to Marshall and Florida International at home, and who barely beat a bad UK team, is capable of being a top five team this year?
JT: "Well, in reality they wouldn't be a top five team, but according to the polls, they could be. Look, UofL's toughest games figure to be at home against South Florida (ranked No. 34 in the AP and USA Today preseason polls), and at Southern Miss (No. 40, USA Today) and Rutgers (No. 41, USA Today). The Kentucky game could be tough because it's a rivalry game, and you never know what will happen when rivals square off, but the game being at Louisville, that should be enough to tip the scales in UofL's favor."
ASoB: You must think Louisville will win all three of those games?
JT: "Yes, or at least they should."
ASoB: In your opinion, then, there are no other schools on UofL's schedule who could beat them?
JT: "Well, of course, there's Florida International, a team that last season lost to Louisiana-Lafayette (36-31), Duke (31-27), Western Kentucky (10-9) and Arkansas State (34-16), and is back on the Cardinal schedule after embarrassing UofL in Papa John's 24-17, and this year the game is in Coral Gables. But my thinking is, surely with (Teddy) Bridgewater at QB the Cards will be able to outscore FIU this year."
ASoB: You mention Louisville's quarterback Ted Bridgewater. He's quite a player in my opinion, what's your take on him?
JT: "Obviously, I like him, or I wouldn't have ranked Louisville No. 2, because, you know, Bridgewater can be a very dangerous player. Anytime a player, a quarterback, can beat you with his arms or legs, he's dangerous.
"At the same time, he does have some work to do for me to consider him an elite quarterback. Last year he ran for a 199 negative yards which left him with only 66 positive yards on 89 carries, so that's an area he needs to improve on ... knowing when to run, when to pass and when to surrender. He's very accurate in the pocket , though, completing nearly 65 percent of his passes (last year), but he will force the ball at times ... his 12 picks to 14 touchdowns is not a ratio you like to see if you're a Louisville fan, which I know you aren't (chuckling)."
ASoB: So you evidently think Bridgewater will improve on last year's numbers?
JT: "As I say, Louisville's schedule is such, Bridgewater could struggle or just not get much better, and the Cards would still have a good shot at winning all their games. Look, after you get past Southern Miss, South Florida, and Rutgers -- not exactly a Murderer's Row lineup, but they serve as UofL's toughest tests -- they then get North Carolina, who shouldn't be very good at all, Pitt, who hasn't risen above mediocrity since Dan Marino played, and Temple and Syracuse, two teams Louisville should never lose to if they want to be considered legitimate."
ASoB: What about Cincinnati?
JT: "Well, my feeling is, every year removed from the end of Brian Kelly's tenure, the closer the Bearcats move back to being the Cincinnati of old. Plus, that game's at Louisville."
ASoB: With Louisville ending last year on an uptick ...
JT: "Whoa, what, an uptick? They went 2-2 against Pitt, UConn, South Florida, and NC State, teams that combined to go 24-26 on the year. That's not ending with a flourish."
ASoB: OK, point taken, but if you think UofL stumbled to the finish line last year, why are you so convinced they can win all their games this year?
JT: "Where have you been? The schedule, my man, the schedule. It's beyond weak. In fact, not to show my southern football bias at all, but there are maybe six, seven, even eight SEC teams that would wreak havoc with that schedule. They'd win 'em all, and probably not be too bothered by the task, either."
ASoB: It's Kentucky vs. Louisville on Sunday. Which Louisville Cardinals should Kentucky fans most worry about, other than Bridgewater?
JT: "DeVante Parker at wide receiver could be someone Kentucky should be concerned with. He has great size at 6-foot-3 and just north of 200 pounds, but he's very athletic and can go up and get the ball. Last year he only caught 18 passes (for 291 yards), but six were for touchdowns ... that's a pretty darn good ratio. Eli Rogers, who's evidently not starting against UK, but he provides (Charlie) Strong with another dangerous receiver. He's not as big as Parker at 5-foot-10, but he has great breakaway speed.
"Also, Dominique Brown at running back is a bull (6-foot-2, 226 pounds), but he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry last year against a fairly lame Big East lineup, but it's always wise to remember, in this game, the team that runs the ball with the most success, always wins."
ASoB: What about the Louisville defense?
JT: "UK needs to be more concerned with executing its own offense, and not UofL's defense."
ASoB: OK, we've got you nailed down picking the Cards to go undefeated and play for the national championship, right?
JT: "I didn't say it was right, but yeah, I could see that happening. And it's really a shame and a disservice to some other, deserving team, because man, if I didn't say it before, the Big East should not have a BCS bid with its current makeup. The Big East, as currently constructed, redefines the meaning of the word weak, which is why, as laughable as it sounds, Louisville could potentially play somebody like Alabama, or LSU, or Oklahoma, or USC in the BCS Championship game. That's just too peculiar for me."
ASoB: Do you think it's possible Louisville could beat teams like that on that stage?
JT: "Well, my friend, a few years ago the University of Louisville played in the Orange Bowl, and back in the '80s Michelle Pfeiffer lived with Fisher Stevens for three years, so I guess anything is possible."
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!