The box score this morning says No. 8 Louisville beat Rutgers 24-10 on Thursday night.
In the broader scope of the national championship, however, the Cardinals lost big on a national stage.
Like it or not, for teams like Louisville in 2013 and Boise State, Utah and TCU in the 2000s, style points matter. Ugly wins – even by two touchdowns – don’t move the needle toward the underdogs.
Louisville committed three turnovers – two by QB Teddy Bridgewater – and never looked quite right offensively during its unimpressive win over the Scarlet Knights.
Forget whether or not running the table will be enough for the Cardinals. After Thursday night it might not be enough even if they are the lone unbeaten team at season’s end.
This isn’t a conversation about what is and is not fair. It’s a conversation about what is and is not reality.
And the reality for Louisville this morning is that it had a tremendous opportunity to make a statement at home on ESPN’s Thursday night telecast – and the Cardinals blew it.
This isn’t a “line drive in the box score” situation.
Last night’s victory goes into the win-column. But it wasn’t a line drive.
For voters to give Louisville the respect its fans think it deserves, the Cardinals needed to dominate all season. The dreadful schedule left no alternative for the heavy American Athletic Conference favorite.
Louisville needed a late fourth-quarter touchdown to put away Rutgers, a voter will scoff this weekend, well how would it fare against Alabama? Or Stanford? Or Oregon?
Therein lies the problem for Louisville this season. Just as the Boise States or the Utahs or TCUs before them, the Cardinals weren’t playing the 12 teams on their schedule this season. They were playing against themselves, needing blowout victories and help from the bigger conferences to knock teams from the ranks of the unbeaten and force voters to give them enough respect to put them in the national championship picture.
Instead, Bridgewater looked good but not great, throwing for 310 yards, but daring to throw for just 2 TDs. He also made the felonious mistakes of turning the ball over on an INT and a fumble inside the red-zone.
All the Heisman talk that surrounded Bridgewater likely came to a screeching halt on Thursday. He could still win the award, but he now faces much longer odds.
Again, it’s worth noting that Bridgewater’s biggest sin so far in 2013 has come with him throwing for only 310 yards and 2 TDs in a 14-point victory.
Adding to the ugliness, RB Senorise Perry also lost a fumble and the Cardinals had a 24-yard field goal try blocked.
Good thing Rutgers QB Gary Nova played for the other team, an otherwise intelligent voter will comment this weekend, his 4 INTs prevented the Scarlet Knights from being able to pull off the upset.
That, of course, is to say nothing of a Louisville defense that has allowed just 44 points through six games.
Boise State, Utah and TCU each went undefeated in the 2000s only to get left out of the BCS National Championship Game. It’s not even clear whether they would have made the new four-team College Football Playoff when it takes effect next season.
TCU came the closest to making the title game in 2010, but both Oregon and Auburn went undefeated to leave the Horned Frogs in the cold.
Louisville was never facing the likes of Rutgers, UCF or Cincinnati this season. It was facing an imaginary team in a game that didn’t have a scoreboard.
The Cardinals had to play against “what if.” What if the Cardinals played…?
It doesn’t matter which team is slotted into the end of that question. Voters already had their minds made up that unless Louisville forced them to consider the Cardinals the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the nation, coach Charlie Strong’s team would be ignored in the national title picture.
Thursday night gave those naysayers the opening to discredit the Cardinals.
Louisville is undefeated on the field, but winless in the critical “what if” games today.
It’s not fair or unfair.
It simply is.