Louisville won't play a single ranked team this season playing in the American Athletic Conference, but that shouldn't mean much to college football critics. While it would be nice to see the Cardinals play top-tier competition, they would still hold their own if they played in the SEC.
Replace Houston, Temple and South Florida with Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. If you really want to make things difficult for the team everybody likes to overlook, throw Louisville in the SEC West so they could play Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. Mix up the conference schedule however you'd like—the Cardinals would continue to prove that they're absolutely legit.
How do we know this?
Well, the Cardinals do have a quarterback named Teddy Bridgewater. No, he's not your typical non-BCS quarterback who carves defenses that are loaded with future doctors and accountants. He's the real deal and will make a strong case to become the No. 1 overall pick in next year's NFL draft. His mechanics are nearly flawless, he can make every throw on the field and has enough athleticism to make plays with his legs if needed.
Right now, he's completing a career-best 71.8 percent of his passes for 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns. Yes, those statistics were put up against lousy defenses, but the Heisman candidate has already shown what he can do against the elite.
Remember last year's BCS Sugar Bowl matchup against Florida? The Cardinals upset the Gators 33-23, and much of the credit should be given to the throwing arm of the junior quarterback. He torched the defense for 266 yards and two touchdowns on 32 pass attempts.
Johnny Manziel, Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray and EJ Manuel weren't able to perform this well against Florida's defense. He didn't just throw for the most yards—he made all of the throws when it counted most, as he completed seven of 11 passes on third down, all of which produced a first down. That's 63 percent. Florida came into the game allowing third-down conversions just 23.2 percent of the time, which was second-best in the country.
If a superstar quarterback like Manziel is good enough to keep the SEC on its heels, imagine what a surefire NFL quarterback could do in this conference. Forget running around and making miracles happen, Bridgewater could sit back in the pocket and pick a defense apart. He's already shown that.
The SEC is quickly becoming a quarterback conference with Manziel, Murray, Zach Mettenberger and AJ McCarron leading the way. All of them have had great success, and it trickles down to their teams, but none are nearly as gifted or have a similar skill set as Bridgewater. He's the cream of the crop at the position and would always give the Cardinals a fighting chance against any team in college football.
But Louisville would need more than a great quarterback, right?
Besides solid offensive weapons in wide receivers DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland, the Cards also have a great defense. Ah, the thing that SEC teams brag about most, Louisville has in spades. Not only is it the best defense in the AAC with an average of 221.3 yards per game allowed, but this same unit controlled Florida for much of the BCS bowl.
Granted, the Gators had the same offensive struggles last year that they're experiencing this year, but the running game was ranked third in the SEC with an average of 187 yards. Louisville must have not gotten the memo, as the Gators were held to just 111 yards on the ground. In case you're wondering, only Georgia and South Carolina—two elite SEC defenses—held Florida to fewer rushing yards.
Remember, most thought Florida could have played in last year's national championship if it wasn't for a sloppy game against the Bulldogs.
The best quarterback in the country, premier offensive weapons and a defense that can hold its own? Sounds like Louisville could flip the SEC on its head.
But there's more!
Forget about what Louisville has to offer. The SEC isn't nearly as intriguing as it was in past seasons. Nine of the 14 teams are allowing more than 350 yards on defense, including Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. There have also been cringe-worthy performances from nearly every team, as eight teams have already turned the ball over at least five times.
Defense and ball security are two factors that have helped produce the last seven national titles, but the conference seems to have lost its way. Yes, Georgia, LSU, Alabama and the rest of the gang are still more than capable of providing a flawless performance on any given week, but they have all given at least one shaky showing against mediocre competition this season.
Louisville is far superior to North Texas, Virginia Tech or Rutgers.
Could the Cardinals win 10 games in the SEC? Absolutely. They already have two with last year's win over Florida and this year's win against Kentucky. The rest of the conference should be glad they aren't in the SEC to finish the job.