Louisville has a problem.
The Cardinals appear to be very good. Their schedule hasn’t been impressive at all, but they’ve annihilated three of their four opponents the same way Florida State has obliterated the three it’s played so far.
And they’ve got unquestionably one of the best players in the country in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Heisman contender who is completing 71.8 percent of his passes and has thrown for 14 touchdowns with just one interception.
On top of that, Louisville, which won the Big East last year but wasn’t considered one of the better teams to play in a BCS bowl when the matchups were announced last December, went out and manhandled Florida in the Sugar Bowl, beating one of the power programs from the most powerful conference.
But while Louisville kind of resembles Florida State to date, there’s a huge difference. Same goes for Oregon, another team that has won by some eye-popping scores.
And it’s because of that difference that Louisville in no way deserves to sniff a shot at the national championship.
Florida State will play Clemson in less than a month. Miami looms on the schedule, maybe twice if the Sunshine State rivals meet in the ACC Championship Game. And at the end of the regular season Florida lies in wait.
Oregon has to deal with Stanford, and Oregon State, and Washington, and maybe UCLA in the Pac-12 title game. Ohio State, another team that’s won big early this season, plays Wisconsin this very weekend, is at underappreciated Northwestern the followingSaturday, and later in the season has to play Michigan, maybe two times.
Louisville will play, um, uh.
The American Athletic Conference — what’s left of the Big East — is putrid.
Louisville, because of that horrendous excuse for an AQ conference, plus a horrid non-conference schedule, will play no one of consequence.
Its schedule is weaker than Boise State’s ever was when the Broncos were perennially a contender to break into the BCS, and on a couple of occasions considered good enough to maybe even play for the national championship.
Its schedule is weaker than TCU’s was when the Horned Frogs were the other perennial contender to break into the BCS.
Its schedule is pathetic.
It’s one thing to play patsies early in the season before getting into the meat of the conference season, easy games to pad the win total knowing the battles that lie ahead.
It’s another thing to play in a conference that’s BCS in name only but more resembles the MAC than the SEC and still schedule nothing but gimmes.
The Cardinals, who it should be noted did try to schedule better non-conference opponents but got no takers, opened the season with a 49-7 win over Ohio — that’d be the Bobcats, not the Buckeyes. Next was a 44-7 win over Eastern Kentucky, followed by a 27-13 victory over Kentucky.
Page 2 of 4 - Last Saturday Louisville put up 72 points and allowed none against Florida International.
“It was just a great overall performance in all three phases of the game,” Bridgewater said after the win. “We just went out today and competed and played a complete game.”
Great. But it was Florida International.
It was one thing when the Big East still had annually solid West Virginia a few years ago. And though neither has been very good lately, at least Pitt and Syracuse gave the conference a couple of teams that could rise up on occasion with a strong season.
There wasn’t much greatness, but at least there was mediocrity.
Now, there isn’t even that.
The most difficult tests Louisville will face are against Rutgers and Cincinnati — the Scarlet Knights have already lost to Fresno State, and the Bearcats got obliterated by Illinois — which don’t exactly belong in the same sentence as Clemson and Miami, or Wisconsin and Michigan, or Stanford and Washington.
Lousiville will likely go undefeated — if it doesn’t, there’s no issue. It’s also very possible that no other team from an AQ conference will post a perfect record.
Doesn’t matter. Lousiville doesn’t belong in Pasadena playing for the national title.
It may not even matter if no other team from an AQ conference has fewer than two losses; that’s how pathetic Louisville’s schedule is compared to theirs.
Think about it: Would Louisville, with “big” wins over Rutgers and Cincinnati, be more deserving than Georgia, for example, which already has a 3-point loss at Clemson, has beaten South Carolina, and will play LSU on Saturday, Florida on Nov. 2, and perhaps Alabama in the SEC title game if both win their divisions?
No. There’s no reward without risk.
The unfortunate part is that Louisville might actually be as good as some of the teams it’s playing like in the early season. And the weakness of the AAC, decimated by conference realignment, isn’t Louisville’s fault.
But you reap what you sow.
What We Learned
No one likes the NCAA, and many hate it.
Two summers ago, the NCAA acted swiftly and mercilessly, levying unprecedented penalties upon Penn State.
In the moment, it felt right, but also a little wrong.
The crimes covered up in Happy Valley were so heinous that even if the NCAA was punishing the school and football program for legal transgressions rather than athletic violations, it sort of didn’t matter on a visceral level.
A few voices spoke up against the penalties at the time, but were drowned out; mine wasn’t one of them.
Page 3 of 4 - As time has passed, there’s been more opportunity for clarity.
Personally, I’ve never been sure what to think of the 65-scholarship cap that was imposed on the Nittany Lions beginning in 2014, the four-year bowl ban put in place for four years starting last year, and the $60 million fine levied on the university.
I’m not so sure the Freeh Report wasn’t flawed.
I’m not sure the NCAA should have punished a football program and university for criminal activity, but also not sure it shouldn’t have.
The NCAA isn’t admitting that it rushed to judgment, but it is re-evaluating the penalties.
On Tuesday it moved to ease the sanctions, though it was explicitly stated the move was the result of Penn State’s actions since last year and not because of feelings they were too severe.
Penn State will now be allowed to carry 75 scholarships in 2014, 80 the following year, and the full 85 in 2016.
“The executive committee’s decision to restore football scholarship opportunities for more student-athletes at Penn State is an important recognition of the university’s progress — and one I know it was pleased to make,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert.
The penalties imposed will deeply hurt Penn State going forward. They won’t kill the program, as some speculated, but they’ll keep the Nittany Lions down.
They’ll punish the players there now, and those who decide to go there in the next few years.
They won’t punish Jerry Sandusky. They won’t harm Joe Paterno, or Graham Spanier, or Tim Curley.
Now they’ll harm the team a little less going forward. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, just as I wasn’t so sure it good to impose such harsh penalties in the first place.
I am glad, for whatever reason, the NCAA is showing some flexibility.
“We’re happy right now for our players. ... They’re a resilient bunch of kids,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said after the sanctions were eased.
Game of the Week
Two teams are on serious upset alert this weekend.
Alabama, which has looked vulnerable in each of its three games so far, has to play an Ole Miss team that’s 3-0 and coming off a lopsided win at Texas two weeks ago. Ohio State, meanwhile, battle-tested by none so far, has to play a Wisconsin team that’s running like it hasn’t missed a beat under new coach Gary Andersen.
But the game that stands above all others is LSU, ranked sixth in the AP Poll, at No. 9 Georgia.
The Bulldogs, who already have a loss, need to win to keep their national title hopes from evaporating, even if they were to go on to win the SEC championship. The Tigers, meanwhile, can show that despite a defense decimated by graduation and early departures they belong in the same class as SEC West rival Alabama, Oregon and just a couple of others.
Page 4 of 4 - “I always wanted to play against elite competition like Georgia and Alabama,” said LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry. “I think those games are what you base your success off of.”
Georgia is a beast on offense, a multifaceted attack with Heisman hopeful Aaron Murray, who plays substantially better at home than on the road, at quarterback, and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall a fearsome pair. The Bulldogs, despite already playing Clemson and South Carolina, average 40.3 points per game. They gain an average of 213.3 yards per game on the ground, and 360.7 yards through the air.
But, the Bulldogs have been vulnerable defensively, allowing 38 points to Clemson, 30 to South Carolina, and even 21 to North Texas.
LSU, meanwhile, is full of surprises.
Last year, quarterback Zach Mettenberger was what held the Tigers back. This year, under the tutelage of first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, he’s completing 64.8 percent of his passes and has thrown for 10 touchdowns and only one interception. And with Jeremy Hill, Terrence Magee and Alfred Blue all contributing significantly, the LSU running game is putting up 221 yards per game.
Like the Dawgs, the Tigers are scoring plenty, averaging 43.3 points per game. But unlike Georgia, LSU is also slowing down the opposition, giving up an average of 19.5 points.
“It’s got to be some type of record to start off with three top 10 teams in the first four games,” said Murray, “but it’s been fun to play this type of game, in these atmospheres, against these teams.”
My Top 5
1. Alabama (3-0): The Tide are looking shaky.
2. Oregon (3-0): Two more easy ones are on tap before a trip to Washington.
3. Clemson (3-0): Beating N.C. State on the road was a sneaky good accomplishment.
4. Ohio State (4-0): Now comes the hard part, home against Wisconsin and at Northwestern.
5. Stanford (3-0): Like Alabama, the Cardinal are still a little shaky.
Eric Avidon is an AP voter who can be reached at 508-626-3809 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ericavidon.