Poor, poor Louisville.
Strangely enough, this college football elegy was the idea I had of what to write in this space before Louisville’s evisceration on Thursday night against Houston. If I felt bad for the Cardinals before that game, I definitely do right now after their humbling.
Wait. Why was I feeling bad about Louisville before Thursday? Why would I feel bad about a team that was right on the doorstep of being projected as a College Football Playoff team as late as this past Tuesday?
Here’s why: they were getting forgotten, even before what happened on Thursday. What captured the entire college football imagination in September gave way to bad timing and indifference.
Remember when Lamar Jackson announced himself onto the national stage with his primetime Friday night game vs. Syracuse, accounting for 610 yards and five touchdowns? Remember the hurdle of a Syracuse defender while rushing for a touchdown, providing the early “Play of the Year” in college football?
That was on Sept. 9. Almost an eon ago.
Remember when the Cardinals, with questions about whether they were ready for the big spotlight against a top opponent, rolled up 530 yards of total offense and jumped out to a 49-10 lead against then No. 2 Florida State in a 63-20 win? The Cards were a national championship contender alright.
That was on Sept. 17, back when the Cleveland Browns still had hope that they might have a good season in 2016.
Remember Louisville’s big showdown with then No. 2 Clemson, where the Cardinals turned an 18-point second-quarter deficit into an eight-point fourth quarter lead in Death Valley, only to barely lose to last season’s national runner-up? The prevailing thought was that Louisville was going to be in the national championship discussion to stay for the rest of the season.
That game with Clemson occurred on Oct. 1, and all of what was mentioned above happened during the first 30 days of the season. Yes, Louisville remained relevant (easy to do when you keep winning), but those great moments and games, at least in my opinion, started to fade into the college football landscape as each week passed by.
Alabama, with a freshman quarterback, was kicking tail and taking names. Michigan was doing the same with second-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. Washington was surprising everyone by resembling the powerhouse we last saw from them about 25 years ago. Somehow, according to some pundits, Louisville went from the team that was here to stay to the team that, supposedly, wasn’t playing the same level of competition other teams had played, even though they played Florida State and Clemson.
Lamar Jackson was the Heisman favorite, but then talk centered around how little buzz the Heisman Trophy race had generated because of the lack of a clear frontrunner. I thought Jackson was the frontrunner. He might still have been before Thursday.
Ultimately, what signaled Louisville’s descent from being on the tips of everyone’s tongues to playing sous-chef in the kitchen were the first two College Football Playoff Rankings. In the first one released, on Nov. 1, the Cardinals, ranked fifth in the AP Poll, were placed seventh, behind one-loss teams Texas A&M (fourth) and Ohio State (sixth) who both ranked behind the Cards in the AP Poll. One week later saw a one-spot improvement to sixth. This past week, however, was the biggest diss, with the Cardinals, expected to jump into the top four after losses to Michigan, Clemson and Washington, only moved up one place to fifth in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings.
If seeing that new ranking was a gut punch to the Cardinals, then they showed how much it hurt just a few days later, when they absolutely pulled a no-show against Houston, going down 31-0 at halftime before falling 36-10.
Lamar Jackson’s Heisman hopes? Fading. Louisville’s national championship hopes? Slim to none. All of what was great with Louisville football in 2016 soon will be forgotten before the end of the regular season.
The group making up the A Lot of Sports Talk College Football Poll panel is far from forgettable, like the great games and plays made by the Cardinals this season. As always, the panel consists of journalists, former college football players and coaches as well as knowledgeable fans who continually have a finger on the pulse of college football. For this week’s poll, our qualified quintet remains the same: Evie Van Pelt (managing editor at The Rebel Walk Magazine), Basil Mitchell (former TCU and Green Bay Packers RB), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Nick Mancuso (patent attorney who attended USC as an undergrad and Oregon for law school) and, yours truly, Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief).
Here is ALOST‘s 2016 College Football Top 25 for Week 12. If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
1. Alabama (125, five first-place votes)
The Tide has won 10+ games for a ninth straight season and will pick up an eleventh victory on Saturday against Chattanooga. The Mocs lead the FCS and are second among all Division I teams in pass defense (131.6 opp. pass YPG). They’ll need every bit of defense they can muster; last Saturday, Alabama QB Jalen Hurts became the first player in school history to have 300+ passing yards and 100+ rushing yards in the same game. (Evie Van Pelt)
2. Louisville (118)
I guess the introduction said it all, but it’s a shame that the Cardinals are all but gone from the College Football Playoff race. A New Year’s Six bowl should still be in play, though. (Adesina Koiki)
3. Ohio State (115)
Our only hope against the inevitable Tide repeat. (Sandy Weintraub)
4. Michigan (107)
With Wilton Speight out indefinitely with a left shoulder injury, it’s John O’Korn who will be taking the snaps going forward. With O’Korn’s past success while at Houston, not sure if there’s too much of a drop-off between the two. (Adesina)
5. Clemson (106)
I would have said in this space that this week’s game in Winston-Salem would be trap. That was before the Tigers went on and lost last week at home in Pittsburgh. I expect Clemson to impress against the much-improved (and bowl eligible) Demon Deacons. (Adesina)
6. Wisconsin (100)
With Michigan losing its starting QB, the lumbering, old-school Badgers may be the second best team in the Big 10. (Sandy)
7. Washington (95)
I went from total non-believer to a devout follower of Chris Petersen-ism to now not knowing what to make of the Huskies after their loss to USC. In my opinion, they’re still good. Really good. (Adesina)
8. Oklahoma (91)
A Lot of Sports Talk will be at Mountaineer Field to see with our own eyes whether the Sooners are the best two-loss team in America. Usually, two-loss teams are toast when it comes to national championship aspirations, but there very well may be a two-loss team in the Playoff. And it might very well be the Big 12 Champion, especially if it’s the Sooners. (Adesina)
9. Penn State (79)
Speaking of two-loss teams possibly making it into the Playoff, how about the Nittany Lions? If Penn State, who owns a win over Ohio State and the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes should those two finished tied atop the Big Ten East, wins its last two games, gets help from Ohio State against Michigan, then wins the Big Ten Championship Game against a Top-10 Wisconsin team, the Lions would have a real strong résumé to hand the Playoff committee. (Adesina)
10. West Virginia (73)
The Mountaineers’ non-conference schedule will most likely keep them out of the Playoff regardless of how they finish out the regular season. Still, winning the Big 12 wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. Doing that requires them to beat Oklahoma Saturday night. Have I told you that we’ll be at that game in person?? Oh, I did. Carry on. (Adesina)
11. Western Michigan (72*)
My fears about Western Michigan’s standing as the top non Power Five team were realized on Tuesday, as they were jumped by Boise State. Fortunately for the Broncos (Western Michigan, not Boise State), because Boise isn’t currently projected to make the Mountain West title game at the moment, WMU is still in the driver’s seat. By rule, a non Power 5 team has to win its conference title to be considered for the New Year’s Six bowl games. (Adesina)
12. Utah (72)
The Utes haven’t had too much success on Senior Day recently, but that should change with the 3-7 Oregon Ducks in town. Utah is two wins away from its first appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game. (Adesina)
13. Colorado (64)
If the game of the week isn’t in Morgantown (it is since we’ll be there), then it’s in Boulder, where the Buffs, now in the Top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings, take on a scorching hot Washington State team. Colorado hasn’t played that great in the past two weeks but has found ways to win. Is that a sign of good things to come? Or something else not so rosy? (Adesina)
14. USC (58)
Who would have thought that the Trojans would have a legitimate shot at a 10-win season after starting 1-3? USC should defeat UCLA and Notre Dame to get to nine wins to end the regular season. (Adesina)
15. Oklahoma State (55)
Given the last few games the Cowboys have played, their game in Fort Worth against TCU might be a “first to 60 wins” type of contest. (Adesina)
16. LSU (53)
The Tigers, who picked up a big win at Arkansas last weekend, will be at home Saturday to take on Florida in a pivotal SEC contest. The game was originally scheduled for October 8 in Gainesville, but was postponed and moved because of Hurricane Matthew. LSU has won the last three in the series; however, the Gators would clinch the SEC East with a win at Tiger Stadium, so there is plenty of motivation to go around. Ed Orgeron’s LSU team has held its opponent to fewer than 400 total yards in 11 consecutive games — the longest active streak by any FBS team. Florida’s Jordan Scarlett ran for a career-high 134 yards in last week’s win over South Carolina, and the Gators are 4-0 all-time when Scarlett tallies 90+ rushing yards in a game. (Evie)
17. Florida State (47)
The Noles took care of an ACC bottom-feeder last week at home against Boston College. Winning in Syracuse should be just as easy. Though, we probably said the same thing about Virginia Tech’s trip to the Salt City last month, and it didn’t turn out that way at all. (Adesina)
18. Washington State (41)
Not that I would root for a specific team to win a big game, but just imagine if the Apple Cup was for the Pac-12 North title? The Cougars can do their part to really set up the stage for their big game against Washington if they can pull out a win in Boulder. (Adesina)
19. Auburn (32)
War Eagle’s six-game win streak was broken last weekend in the 13-7 loss at Georgia. Auburn has lost its last nine games when scoring fewer than 10 points, though scoring shouldn’t prove to be a problem against this week’s opponent, Alabama A&M. It is worth noting though that Auburn quarterback Sean White injured his shoulder in last week’s loss and his status for Saturday’s game is questionable. (Evie)
20. Boise State (29)
The Broncos did their part in taking care of UNLV on Friday. Now, they’ll need San Diego State to defeat Wyoming on Saturday to, more than likely, control their own fate in terms of winning the Mountain West and possibly reaching a New Year’s Six game. (Adesina)
21. Nebraska (28)
Why is a team that’s 8-2 with losses against two of the top six teams in the country ranked this low? Well, when your best win is against Wyoming in September, that explains a lot. (Adesina)
22. Florida (17)
The Gators will clinch the SEC East with a victory in Baton Rouge. Florida’s defense is clicking on all cylinders right now as they lead the FBS in opponent completion percentage (43.5%), second in opponent passer rating (92.3) and third in pass defense (155.1 YPG). However, they’ll have their hands full stopping the two-headed monster attack of LSU running backs Derrius Guice and Leonard Fournette. Guice ran for a career-high 252 yards last week, the second-best performance on the ground by any SEC player this season. And to whom did he come in second? That would be teammate Fournette, who had 284 yards against Ole Miss earlier this season. (Evie)
23. San Diego State (13)
If the Aztecs beat Wyoming, go into its conference title game with only one loss and then top a one-loss Boise State for the Mountain West title, would they jump an undefeated Western Michigan in the Playoff rankings? I would say no, but it would be a close call! (Adesina)
24. Texas A&M (11)
The Aggies dropped a 29-28 heartbreaker to Ole Miss in College Station last weekend, as the Rebels scored 23 fourth-quarter points behind the arm and legs of true freshman quarterback Shea Patterson to earn the comeback victory. Kevin Sumlin’s team hosts UTSA Saturday at Kyle Field in the first-ever meeting between the two. One more win and the 5-5 Roadrunners, who have scored 30+ points in four straight games, become bowl eligible. Jalen Rhodes (709 yards, 8 TDs) and Jarveon Williams (675 yards, 8 TDs) of UTSA are one of only six sets of FBS teammates to have each run for 600+ yards and 8+ touchdowns this season. (Evie)
25. Troy (8)
Well, this ranking won’t last long after the Trojans’ humbling at the hands of Arkansas State on Thursday, but it still shouldn’t take away from the great job Neal Brown has done in his second season as head coach. Look for him to be getting some calls as the coaching carousel starts to spin in earnest next month. (Adesina)
Others receiving votes:
North Carolina (7 points), Stanford (4), Pittsburgh (2), South Florida (2), Houston (1)
* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)