University of Louisville fans deserved a break after enduring one of the least attractive schedules in college football this past season.
For their faithfulness and patience, they’re being rewarded in a big way, with the Miami Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Saturday, Dec. 28th. While UofL will officially represent the AAC, that’s in name only. The Cardinals have emerged from the wilderness, stepping up in class. UofL fans can finally say they are competing as an equal against a future Atlantic Coast Conference foe.
Despite the lack of brand-name opposition, all seven home games at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium were sold out Three games with more than 55,000 in attendance, an average of 52,914 fans per game. Remarkable for a home slate that featured Ohio U, Eastern Kentucky, Florida International, Rutgers, Central Florida, , Houston and Memphis. A year of transition, the equivalent of Purgatory. No long-time rivals or brand names on the home slate. A year when Alabama, Texas A&M and Ohio State didn’t want any part of a team fresh from a Sugar Bowl victory over third-ranked Florida.
Considering the competition, it may have been difficult at times for fans to tear themselves away from the tailgating atmosphere outside the stadium. One long season, punctuated by noon kickoffs and dropping expectations at the season dragged on. Even the players may have found it difficult to get excited about some opponents. That, combined with Coach Charlie Strong’s emphasis on defense, the games often bordered on boring. And don’t forget the basketball season starting a month early.
The best game may have actually been a road game against rival Cincinnati. Thanks to Teddy Bridgewater’s heroics, the fans reveling in a twice come-from-behind 31-4 overtime win over the Bearcats.
Louisville partisans have been tested, and passed the challenge in ways no one could imagined a few seasons ago. Miami, with a 9-3 won-lost record, brings everything that has been missing. An opponent with a great football tradition, a program eager to regain its position among the national powers.
UofL has more than a dozen players from Miami who might have stayed home had Charlie Strong and Clint Hurtt not been at Louisville. The competition between the schools is on a trajectory to a new level, extending beyond the recruiting wars, to what could easily become another great rivalry. A nice introduction to the Atlantic Coast Conference for Louisville football fans.
And good riddance to weak football schedules. As UofL’s Tom Jurich noted Sunday, “We get a jump start on the ACC, we are so looking forward to that.”