Louisville's title hopes dumped

Shocking loss at South Florida spoils Cardinals' plans to roll through weakened Big East


College Football

September 26, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

This was to be the season Louisville was going to make its move from up-and-coming to elite, the switch to the watered-down Big East and a favorable schedule providing a nearly unimpeded path for the Cardinals to an undefeated season and their first Bowl Championship Series game.

Maybe, if everything fell right, even a shot at a national championship.

The question in the 'Ville today is the same as it is in nearby Lexington: When does basketball season start?

If Louisville's shaky season-opening performance against the hated Kentucky Wildcats earlier this month wasn't a bad enough sign, then Saturday night's 45-14 loss at South Florida was another sign. In this case, a stop sign.

As in, stop talking about anything regarding football for this year.

This wasn't like losing a close game at Miami, as the Cardinals did last year. This was South Florida, not Florida or Florida State. This was like losing to, well, Kentucky.

"It's like a firing squad," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said as he approached reporters after the game Saturday night in Tampa. "Go ahead and fire."

South Florida, which lost 41-9 last year at Louisville, took a 21-0 lead Saturday despite coming in as a 20-point underdog.

"South Florida did a nice job," Petrino said. "They had a good game plan. They played faster than we did. They hit harder than we did. Basically, we got out-coached and outplayed."

This should be an interesting week at Louisville, with former coach Howard Schnellenberger coming to town with Florida Atlantic for homecoming.

"There's still a lot of football to play," Petrino said. "This will challenge where we're at as a team and what kind of leadership we have as a team. We're either going to come together or we're going to fall apart. I'm hoping we're going to come together."

Here's another question: Considering what the hopes were for this season, haven't the Cardinals already fallen apart?

Game of the week: -- For those devotees of high-scoring games, nothing will beat Texas Christian's 51-50 win over Brigham Young that included a 100-yard kickoff return by Cory Rodgers for the Horned Frogs and ended after Rodgers scored on a 3-yard run in overtime when it appeared he was stripped of the ball. Chris Manfredini's extra-point kick gave TCU its second straight overtime win.

Game of the weak: -- Any game involving Temple usually qualifies, but Western Michigan's 19-16 win over the Owls represents a game between a team that has been booted out of the Big East and one of the bottom-feeders in the Mid-American Conference. The Owls will finish their three-game foray into the MAC this week with a trip to Bowling Green.

Best play call: -- After Wisconsin tailback Brian Calhoun had blistered then-14th-ranked Michigan with 155 yards rushing on 35 carries and 59 more yards on seven catches, everyone inside Camp Randall Stadium figured he was going to get his number called with the ball on the Wolverines' 4 and less than 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Instead, Barry Alvarez went with a quarterback draw to John Stocco, whose touchdown helped give unbeaten Wisconsin a 23-20 overtime win.

Most questionable play call: -- Though any fourth-and-three at your opponent's 22 with less than a minute left and your team trailing by a touchdown is often a dicey proposition, what was Army offensive coordinator Kevin Ross thinking in calling a running play instead of trying to get the ball in - or at least near - the end zone? It didn't work, and the Cadets, who had led Iowa State early, wound up losing 28-21.

Team that helped its BCS chances: -- Michigan State could have stumbled after its emotional overtime win at Notre Dame the previous week, but the now-11th-ranked Spartans clobbered a bad Illinois team, 61-14, on the road and now get to go home next week to play in-state rival Michigan. MSU coach John L. Smith, whose spread offense is giving everyone fits, looks like the Big Ten front-runner with Michigan and Iowa having lost twice, and Ohio State and Purdue each losing once.

Team that hurt its BCS chances: -- Not that Michigan was still in the running after losing to the Fighting Irish two weeks ago, but Saturday's defeat in Madison was a season-killer. Lloyd Carr is going to start feeling the heat in Ann Arbor that his predecessor, Gary Moeller, did years back. The annual end-of-season matchup with the Buckeyes, scheduled this season for the Big House, will have little meaning outside the two schools.don.markus@baltsun.com

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