Louisville Football: Will the Cardinals Reach the BCS National Championship?

Joshua SchiefelbeinContributor IIIOctober 12, 2013

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 10:  Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Louisville Cardinals gives instructions to his team during the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 10, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Louisville Cardinals remain undefeated after Thursday night's 24-10 win over Rutgers University, but Thursday's pyrrhic victory cost Louisville a BCS National Championship game appearance. In front of a national TV audience, Louisville had the chance to showcase their worthiness against a decent opponent but flopped. Now, Louisville's goal is even farther away than it was at the beginning of the season and will only get more distant.

With six games left in the regular season, the schedule gets much tougher as three of Louisville's opponents have at least four wins apiece. Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston stand in the way, and strong performances from any one of them will prevent Louisville from traveling to Pasadena. BCS voters will not choose the Cardinals over a one-loss Pac-12 or SEC team. Even a 12-0 Ohio State squad would be selected over Louisville based on appearance and strength of schedule.

Cincinnati has a decent team and is probably a notch better than both Kentucky and Rutgers. However, Cincinnati is the easiest threat to handle, if only because of the adversity the Bearcats are going through. In head coach Tommy Tuberville's first season, Cincinnati lost starting quarterback Munchie Legaux to a knee injury, the Bearcats were upset by previously winless South Florida and redshirt freshman Brian Flick died tragically in a car accident.

Houston's potential to upset Louisville is a mystery because the Cougars have yet to play a strong opponent. Next week's game against Brigham Young will give a more accurate picture of Houston. One thing remains constant though, Houston's high-powered offense will test Louisville's defense.

Right now, Louisville's biggest threat is Central Florida who has already routed Akron, a team that almost upset Michigan, and upset Penn State. Two weeks ago, Central Florida almost shocked South Carolina but fell short, losing by just three points for its only loss of the season. With a defense that is giving up 16.6 points per game, Central Florida will harass Bridgewater all night and force him to make more mistakes that Rutgers did.

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 10:  Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Louisville Cardinals fumbles the ball as he is sacked Anthony Cioffi #31 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 10, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville's title hopes rested on the arm of Heisman hopeful quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater needed to play perfectly every game of the season, but against Rutgers, he threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns. Instead, Louisville only won on a big performance from its defense while Bridgewater led an offense that turned the ball over three times. Louisville's defense suffocated Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova, registering eight sacks and four interceptions. 

Per Gary B. Graves of ABC Sports, "It was a decent performance," Bridgewater said. "I left a couple of throws on the field. I battled adversity, but it was a decent performance. It was a great team effort, the guys laid it all on the line."

Bridgewater threw an interception in the end zone and missed a wide-open Damian Copeland that could have put Louisville inside the five-yard line.

Bridgewater acknowledged that Louisville could have, and should have, played much better. Per Fox Sports' Greg Couch, "I believe we got our message through," Bridgewater said. "(But) we left about 17 points on the field. We should've easily put up 40 points tonight."

Head coach Charlie Strong knows that Thursday night's performance likely cost Louisville the Championship appearance, and he tried to spin the victory as one voters should approve of during his post-game interview.

Per Couch's report, “We came away with a victory and it was a good game. Rutgers played well also. If you’re sitting there with someone watching the game, you’re probably saying, 'This is a really good football game.'"

For a team to have a chance at the National Championship, it needs a bit-time, marquee victory. Louisville's only major victory this season was against SEC cellar-dweller Kentucky, a 27-13 win that should have been larger for a prospective championship team. 

Louisville was a dark-horse candidate to play in the BCS Championship during the preseason thanks to last season's bowl win over Florida and Bridgewater's Heisman hype. But just like Bridgewater's shot at the Heisman, Louisville's shot at the Championship is gone with the wind, regardless of whether they win the American Athletic Conference or not.