The first indication that the University of Louisville might be in trouble came early in the week, with at least one local analyst who will go unamed, projecting a 6-0 start to the football season, anticipating a major showdown at Clemson in a month.
Not surprisingly, many UofL fans bought into the invincible scenario. Runaway wins in the first two games will have that kind of effect, coming on top of so many wins the past three seasons.
Those soaring expectations came crashing down to earth Saturday with UofL on the wrong side of a 23-21 score against Virginia, a team that had lost 11 straight conference games over the past two seasons. Yes, against the team picked to finish last in the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The starting assignment might have been Gardner's last if freshman Bonnafon had been able to move the offense.
Except for the opening drive and a couple of exceptions in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals would spend much of the game starting out inside their five-yard line, managing only 79 yards on the ground and 203 through the air. Probably the lowest offensive output since the Kragthorpe era. Sure felt like it.
No news coming out of the University of Louisville camp yet about whether Michael Dyer will suit up for the football game against Virginia on Saturday so it’s likely he will miss still another one.
He has been slow to heal from his latest injury, a thigh contusion, and his teammates and fans are learning to live without him.
Dyer hasn’t played since half way through last season, missing the last six games because of a sports-hernia injury. When he was healthy, the muscular Dyer displayed explosiveness and power, gaining 238 yards in 44 tries, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
He and Dominique Brown were envisioned to be one of the top running back duos in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Dyer had a good spring session and an impressive pre-season before going down. Now he’s just trying to get back to playing condition.
Dyer, remember, began his career at Auburn and was a key component on Auburn’s 2011 national title team, rushing for 1,093 yards as a true freshman before off-the-field issues caused him to miss two seasons. Charlie Strong’s decision to allow him to play at UofL was seen as a major breakthrough for the running game, but Strong indicated the two lost years had affected his game.
Will he ever return to being the player who earned MVP honors in Auburn’s national championship win over Oregon in 2011? What about a possible future in the National Football League?
After missing two seasons before last year and the last eight games at UofL, Dyer largely remains an unknown quantity. For the moment, his objective is to simply get back on the field.
Forgive University of Louisville fans if they seem to be walking on air the next few weeks and months. No waking up, shaking their collective head and realizing it was all a dream. They’re living it. A new era in UofL athletics and academics begins Tuesday as the University is officially welcomed into the Atlantic Coast Conference.
To fully appreciate the significance of the move, one would have had to have followed Louisville for seven decades through the various conferences in which UofL has participated during one’s lifetime, seven conference affiliations during that span. Check that. Make it eight now — the ultimate conference, the ACC. Member institutions speak volumes about the quality of the conference — Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Miami. And, of course, Notre Dame in every sport except football.
The premier destination for a program that has competed at the highest levels for decades despite tremendous obstacles, overcoming the stigma of mid-major status in struggling conferences, achieving national respect despite severe scheduling challenges. Building for the future, investing in athletic facilities second to none, hoping, wishing, praying not to be left out when the final bell rings for conference realignment.
Some really dark days there for a while, more than five years, watching conferences expand and implode, prominent members leaving the Big East Conference, watching a once proud league steadily implode. There would be tantalizing, sometimes conflicting rumors of possible inclusion in the Big XII only to lose out to West Virginia in the end. Any chance of getting into the SEC expansion blocked by a rival university. The ACC said to be beyond UofL’s reach for geographic and academic reasons. Anxious UofL fans scouring the Internet daily dissecting dozens of rumors, parsing official statements, watching and waiting, trusting all the while in the abilities of Tom Jurich to prevail against sometimes overwhelming odds.
Being excluded would have been a crushing blow to fans for whom the University is like a second family. Missing out would surely mean being forever banished to the ranks of the also-rans, getting shut out in the recruiting wars, being relegated to second-rate football bowls, relying on past accomplishments with little odds of seriously being respected in the national polls. The situation was undeniably bleak until the Big 10 decided to expand again in November 2012, extending invitations to Rutgers and Maryland. The ACC needed to replace Maryland. At long last, the gods were smiling on UofL.
None of the recent changes in proposed or actual college conference realignments have had anything to do with basketball. Not even one. In fact, Kansas, one of the leading basketball programs, came perilously close to being relegated to the scrap heap.
Hard to fathom in parts of the country where the following for basketball closely resembles the most fanatical of cults, with an intensity among its frenetic followers that rivals that of some hardened fundamental and radical groups.
Brendan Prunty, of the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, envisions a realignment that would merge the Big East and Atlantic Coast conferences into what he convincingly argues would be the best basketball conference in the nation while also being a respectable football league, as follows:
Big Atlantic Conference
NORTH — Boston College, UConn, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Temple, Villanova, Notre Dame, Georgetown, St. John’s and Maryland.
SOUTH — Wake Forest, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, Louisville, Central Florida, South Florida, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Memphis.
Under this scenario, Villanova, Notre Dame, Georgetown and St. John’s would be basketball-only schools. Miami, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech would have joined the SEC, and Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh would have gone to the Big Ten.
The “Big Atlantic Conference” would be a respectable football conference and would provide sufficient opportunities for the member schools to compete at the highest level.Â More importantly, it would remain true to the history and tradition of the basketball-centric ACC and Big East by creating perhaps the best college basketball conference imaginable …
State, Duke, UNC and Wake would get to play each other twice each regular season.Â Traditional rivalries in each league would be respected and promoted …
Imagine a conference tournament arranged as follows:Â The South division plays two rounds in Greensboro, the North in Madison Square Garden.Â The four semi-finalists from each division would then play out the tournament in Greensboro or the Garden, alternating each season.
Gotta love the name, The Big Atlantic Conference. However, the South division of the tournament would have to be played in the new 22,000-seat state-of-the-art arena in Louisville. And Notre Dame would not be pressured into playing conference football, enjoying a great new home for its other sports.
This lineup is one that makes a lot of sense and would generate a highly profitable television network, assuring that basketball remains a major power player on the college athletic landscape.