The Louisville Cardinals were fully aware of the expectations coming into this season. Fair or foul, the only way this season would be viewed as a success would be by reaching another BCS bowl game. Can anyone really fault the Louisville fanbase for adopting a "BCS or bust" mentality?
The Cards finished last season with a win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl, started this season in the Top 10 with a Heisman hopeful at quarterback, 18 returning starters and a schedule with enough cupcakes to make Little Debbie blush.
Louisville's goal of reaching the BCS National Championship game was likely just a pipe dream. However, the goal of a second-straight BCS bowl game was a softball down the middle for this team, at least it should have been.
The hype surrounding this year's football squad was unlike any the school has ever scene. Most of that can be attributed to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is expected by many to be the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
With a schedule that featured seven home games and zero Top 25 opponents, for this squad to not reach the BCS is simply inexcusable. The train came off the tracks on October 18, if only for a moment. Sadly, a moment is all that is needed to turn a dream season upside down.
The Cardinals had some closer-than-expected finishes throughout the season, which drew criticism from many media outlets across the country. However, at no point in any of those close games did you ever get the sense Louisville would let it slip away.
Against the Central Florida Knights, the Cards didn't just let one slip away, they threw one out the door. Louisville built a 28-7 lead at home and on national TV with just 4:50 remaining in the third quarter. They would then allow the UCF Knights to score 24 unanswered points before eventually succumbing to a crushing 38-35 defeat. Move over Louisville, the Knights are driving the bus now. Houston we have a problem, and only the Cougars can fix it.
The Houston Cougars travel to Orlando Saturday night to take on the Central Florida Knights, a matchup that will determine first place in the AAC. Should Houston defeat the Knights this weekend, they would come to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium next Saturday in sole possession of the AAC's BCS ticket. If the Knights get past the Cougars, fans in Orlando will be safe to start booking hotels and flights for the BCS trip.
Louisville has two paths to the BCS. Both involve the Cardinals finishing the season 11-1. The second part of pathway No. 1 would be Central Florida losing two games down the stretch—not likely.
Instead, the Cards have to take care of business Friday night against UCONN, root like crazy for Houston to take down UCF Saturday, beat Houston next weekend and clean house down the stretch. This would likely result in a three-way tie for the AAC between Houston, UCF and Louisville. AAC tiebreaking procedures would grant the BCS bowl to the highest-ranked team in the final BCS poll, almost guaranteed to be Louisville in this scenario.
Of course, all of this means nothing if UCF handles Houston Saturday night. That being said, Louisville has no one to blame but themselves for this situation.
The Cardinals are without a doubt the most talented and well-coached team in the AAC, and their schedule was a slam dunk for a return trip to the BCS. All the Teddy Bridgewater touchdowns in the world can't change the fact that Louisville controlled their own destiny and let the Knights take it from them.
Now the Cards are reduced to cupcake beaters and cheerleaders, handling the softballs that are thrown to them each week (besides Houston next week) and rooting for the Cougars to knock off the Knights Saturday.
Elite programs don't need help from lesser teams to reach the BCS, that's a lesson Louisville is learning the hard way.