The Louisville Cardinals are everything wrong with the ACC

DIRECTV Holiday Bowl - Louisville v USC
DIRECTV Holiday Bowl - Louisville v USC / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

I was one of many that felt their hearts sink upon hearing the news that Florida State had been left out of this season’s College Football Playoff bracket, and even weeks later, I can’t say that I’m over it. Reason being? It was objectively wrong.

That is not something worth discussing any further, it is simply the truth, and every way you look at the situation—whether it be from the perspective of precedents the CFP committee has set, of the ‘Noles having been ranked in the top four, of punishing a team for winning in spite of the uncontrollable absence of a single player, or of whatever else—blatantly shows that.

But, as we see so often in today’s society, there are folks out there who purposely defy facts and objectivity for an abundance of reasons, including but not limited to denial, the need for contrarianism, and just plain stupidity. As a result, they aim to play devil’s advocate on literally everything, and this FSU scandal is no exception.

They have dug through the bag of tricks to whip out anything that can be used to form even the slightest defense for the committee, ranging from bringing up the quarterback issues (which, again, should not be grounds to punish an unbeaten team, and has been overlooked before) to arguing that Florida State had a high likelihood of losing (despite us actually seeing Alabama lose at home, by double-digits, to another team in the bracket).

Heck, some have even attempted to gaslight the nation into believing that the selection process has always revolved around the best, not the most deserving (if that’s the case, 2021 Cincinnati and 2022 TCU would like a word—and they’re just the most recent examples).

But there’s one more prominent excuse that the imbeciles have been throwing around, and it’s actually one that we have heard a lot about well before this month: The ACC sucking.

The ACC is not new to being under the critic’s microscope

For years now, the ACC has been seen as what many would call a “one-trick pony,” having just a single team that stands out visibly above all the rest for several years at a time. We witnessed this phenomenon with Florida State back in the 1990s and with Clemson in the mid-to-late 2010s.

While this year may not be the start to anything consistent, we nonetheless saw a similar dynamic, as Florida State was far and away the only contender in the conference. The next team up to rake in some respect for the league was Louisville, and for what it’s worth, the Cardinals truly seemed like they could be a squad to keep an eye on for a moment there—just a moment.

Entering Week 13, the Cards were sitting pretty with a 10-1 record. While their loss was an ugly one (more on that later), they had wins over names like NC State and Notre Dame, each of which either hit or exceeded the nine-win threshold. And though the CFP committee’s rankings made it crystal clear that Louisville’s playoff window had been shut, the very-real chances of UL winning out was at least doing something to combat the “one-team conference” image.

But alas, the conclusion of Louisville’s 2023 story was not so glorious. Rather, it turned out to be one of the most pathetic send-offs that we’ve seen in recent memory; so pathetic, in fact, that it encapsulated the flawed nature of the Atlantic Coast Conference in exquisite fashion.

How exactly did Louisville achieve such a sorry image?

First things first, the previously mentioned loss. When I say it was ugly, I mean the circumstances were about as unforgivable as a team looking for recognition could ever have, as the Cardinals lost by 17 to Pittsburgh, who finished 3-9. You cannot play in what is regarded as a weaker league, suffer a defeat like that, then ask for consideration in selecting names for a four-team bracket, so that was mistake #1. Mistake #2 was losing again, to another heavily flawed team, but this time it was from the SEC.

There’s a reason why fans of ACC schools (and the schools themselves) look at the SEC with such resentment—all fans/players/coaches/whoever else from the conference toxically strut around talking about how superior they are. With that said, the absolute last thing a promising Atlantic Coast squad should do is slip up against a struggling Southeastern one, yet that’s precisely what Louisville did in rivalry week.

It can’t be put delicately: The Kentucky Wildcats have straight-up owned the Cardinals the past several years, entering this year’s matchup with an active win streak of four games over them, each of which were decided by multiple possessions. But, with this being Louisville’s best season in years, and with the Wildcats being 6-5, many thought this would be the year that the Cards ended the drought. Well, it wasn’t.

The Cats would go on to come within close reach of dropping a 40-bomb, winning 38-31 in Louisville. Even with UL’s defense getting noticeably worse in the few games leading up to the rivalry clash, it had only given up that many points in one other instance this season (the Pitt game, 38-21).

Mind you this team had already clinched a spot in the ACC title game, and with this being the conference’s first year without divisions, we had certainty that it was the best one available not named Florida State. So, as the Seminoles went into Charlotte to battle Louisville, their potential victory was already set to mean all the less when arguing for a playoff spot—a concern that was only heightened by them winning with an uneventful score of 16-6.

Now I feel as if I must once again stress that neither that result nor anything else exonerates the CFP, as while the score was objectively underwhelming, the then-fourth-ranked Seminoles still greatly
defied expectations when considering the game’s Louisville-favoring spread. Not only that, but it truly was a great win on paper (neutral-site victory, top-15 opponent, double-digit margin of victory).

However, all the result did was give the CFP committee and its social media fanboys reason to feel that they were justified in replacing the ‘Noles with Alabama, as any real contender would have beaten Louisville far worse than that, am I right? I mean heck, a now six-loss SEC team, Kentucky, beat them—and scored over twice as many points in the process—just a week ago, and Bama crushed the Wildcats! Can’t you hear them? Can’t you hear them all saying that in a futile attempt to convince America (and themselves) that they made the right move?

I’m sure it’ll come off as me putting on my tinfoil hat, but I am one of many that firmly believe the committee punched Bama’s ticket to the bracket as soon as the Tide beat Georgia, and that it was simply a matter of whom they were going to screw over in the process. So even if Louisville hadn’t doused itself in that fresh layer of embarrassment right before the ACC title game, Florida State still ran a severe risk of getting jobbed.

But through it all, visibly being one of the best teams in the ACC in spite of suffering such ungodly regular-season defeats and being capable of getting outscored by two possessions against an FSU squad without a quarterback does the conference a monumental disservice—and to think that it just got even worse.

The Cards just quadrupled down on embracing their disappointing brand

On Wednesday night, Louisville faced the USC Trojans in the Holiday Bowl. This time last year, this would have been quite the challenge for the Cardinals, as USC won 11 games in the regular season, made the Pac-12 title game, and had a Heisman-winning quarterback in Caleb Williams. That description could not be less fitting when applied to what the Cards actually got.

This time around, the Trojans were 7-5, hadn’t sniffed a conference title berth, and had backup QB Miller Moss manning the offensive helm. Especially when not wanting to go out with yet another pathetic loss, surely a top-15, 10-win Louisville with starting QB Jack Plummer can beat them, right? Wrong.

After the Cardinals took an early 7-0 advantage, the game was all USC, as the tally turned into 21-7 Trojans, which became 28-14 (halftime score), then 35-21, before landing at 42-28.

The final had the Trojans dethroning the aforementioned Panthers and Wildcats for most points scored on Louisville all year, as that Miller Moss guy—who hadn’t seen any action since early September—threw for over 370 yards and six touchdowns, setting a Holiday Bowl record. Meanwhile, Plummer, the man that started every game for the Cardinals and their formidable offense this season, threw for just 141 yards and scored nothing. Disgusting.

Oh, and before anyone even thinks of playing the “not motivated” card, few teams in America were more deflated by their season than the USC Trojans were by theirs, yet they still went out there and won convincingly—so I refuse to hear any of it.

Next. Next . Bowl game opt outs are annoying . dark

The undeniable truth is this: The 2023 Louisville Cardinals were a good team, but with nauseating losses to objectively mediocre-or-worse teams, they were never anywhere near great. When they made their conference championship game despite that, and then went on to inexcusably lose some more, they reinforced their league’s weak image and helped greenlight/validate the act of robbing its deserving champion from a shot at greatness. Therefore, they serve as a symbol for everything wrong with the ACC today, and why Florida State is now fighting like heck to get out of it.