--By Mike Gilpatrick
--Photo by Jared Anderson
If the season ended today, the Louisville Cardinals would be heading to a bowl game…
Granted, we are only three games into the 2019 college football season. There are nine more games left. But after the dismal 2018 campaign, where the Cardinals finished 2-10, a 2-1 record feels good. The one loss was to a top-10 team; and the Cardinals hung with them for three quarters and beat the spread.
After the first three games, is it time to re-look at Louisville’s win projections, especially after some of the losses or closer wins than expected by 2019 opponents?
Possibly. In the first three weeks, Florida State has underperformed; losing to Boise State at home and Virginia on the road, and won in overtime against UL Monroe. FSU was originally projected to go 8-4, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. Now, they’re projected to go 6-6.
Boston College is another team in a similar situation. They started 2-0, but were destroyed in Chestnut Hill by Kansas, which has been the laughing stock of college football for over a decade.
Syracuse is another example; originally ranked 22nd, but have underperformed after getting blown out 63-20 by Maryland, and 41-6 by Clemson. NC State is another, after losing 44-27 against West Virginia.
The games against those teams may be closer than originally expected. According to the FPI, Louisville has at least a 30% chance at victory six more times this season. They have above a 40% chance three times. Louisville has above a 50% chance two more times.
Louisville’s expected win total has also improved from 4.4 to 5.5.
But there’s still too many questions to say they will probably make a bowl game. Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky were the two easiest opponents on the schedule. An absolute shelling against Eastern and solid win against Western help build anticipation, but there are a few tough games on the schedule. Louisville has to play tough road games against Wake Forest, Miami (if the momentum from week three carries), and Kentucky. Clemson is also on the schedule.
A real test will be what happens in Tallahassee on September 21st. The Seminoles had high expectations entering the season, and can create a hostile atmosphere. FSU has also owns a 15-4 record against Louisville. The Cardinals may have won the past two of three years, but last year’s loss at home had to sting.
If Louisville wins a true road test against the Seminoles on the road, then six-wins becomes a far easier task to accomplish.
The culture has also shifted from the Bobby Petrino era, for the better. Players are having more fun, and the environment appears to be more player-friendly under Scott Satterfield. The team has already appeared to benefit from that.
Tutu Atwell has four touchdowns in three games, and is one away from last year’s team lead. Jawon Pass and Malik Cunningham have also had better years at quarterback so far. Bryan Brown’s defense has also been significantly better than Bryan VanGorder or Peter Sirmon’s. They’re surrendering less than 19 points now. Last year, Bryan VanGoder’s unit allowed more than 44 points a game. If VanGorder coordinated the defense against Notre Dame, Louisville could have easily surrendered 77 ponts.
And Louisville is playing well with one of the lowest ranked recruiting classes since 2009. They’re playing with the 69th overall class in 2019. It was dead last in the ACC. Only 13 enrolled, according to 247Sports.
Louisville’s future looks bright. There’s 23 hard commits for the 2020 class; already the 29th in the nation. The culture shift and revitalized atmosphere may lead to a shorter rebuild than expected.
But it’s too early to say Louisville will win six games. If the Cardinals defeat Florida State, then it may be time to change our expectations.
Regardless, a 2-1 record with a quality loss feels good, especially after a 2-10 record.