Louisville's Hopes in the Hands of the Committee
Tonight the College Football Playoff Committee will release its final season rankings. Over Conference Championship Weekend, not much happened to change what came out with last week's rankings with only a few exceptions. Many spent last night arguing about the idea that there should or should not be an eight team playoff instead of four. That's not something that I'm going to take a stance on or discuss here today, so let's just focus on what things look like for the Cards from here.
Louisville went into this weekend watching from home, unfortunately, powerless to their fate. I think most fans have settled with the idea that Louisville will be headed to the Citrus Bowl after the Taxslayer (formerly Gator) Bowl announced that Louisville wasn't on the list of bowl candidates. The Cards Orange Bowl hopes were likely dashed when Florida State came in ranked ahead of Louisville by one spot in last week's rankings. Apparently, when comparing teams with identical records, a head to head 43 point win is irrelevant. I understand the committee's stance, though. It is more popular to rank a team trending up higher than a team trending down. Beat Houston or UK in the last two weeks and we wouldn't even be having this conversation. There are two ways for Louisville to make a New Year's Six Bowl but one is far more likely than the other. If Louisville manages to be ranked higher than Colorado, Oklahoma State, and Wisconsin tonight, they would make the Cotton Bowl with Florida State headed to the Orange. While I see the opportunity to pass the Buffs and Cowboys, I would think that the Badgers stay well put ahead of the Cards, regardless of whether or not I think they haven't done anything to be ranked so high. The other chance is that Florida State falls behind Louisville tonight. I don't think this is particularly likely because, as I tweeted earlier this week, Alabama could have beaten Florida by 100 yesterday and I don't think that the committee would flip FSU and Louisville.
The major changeup to the rankings comes at the hands of none other than the Temple Owls. Temple knocked off Navy in the AAC Championship game which solves a lot of problems for the bowl game decision makers. We discussed the possibilities yesterday on the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour, but a Navy win yesterday would have had the chance to make things very awkward for bowl decision makers. Since Navy still has another game to play, a Midshipmen win yesterday would have made the Cotton Bowl Group of Five team undecided until after the Army/Navy game. Since bowls start the following week, things would have gotten dicey. As it stands now, undefeated Western Michigan will be headed to the Cotton Bowl. In my opinion, this should have never been a question, but here we are, in a world where all of this is decided by fewer than 20 people whose lack of bias is questionable.
Obviously, we'll know more after tonight's rankings come out, but until then, let the speculation continue.
Men's Hoops has Strong Week
Following the loss to Baylor many Louisville fans, as is the custom after an early season loss, threw caution to the wind and gave up hope on the season. Fortunately, the basketball team had a different mindset than the fans and came out with a strong week following Thanksgiving.
There was no rest for the wicked after the loss to Baylor in the Bahamas. The Cards got another shot at a top 15 team immediately after when Purdue came to town for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Purdue looked to be a strong challenge for the Cards with two good big men, the same combination that gave Louisville fits in the second half against Baylor. The Cards were up to the task this time around, coming up big in the paint against Haas and Swannigan for the entirety of the game instead of just 20 minutes. Louisville tried to give this one up in a similar way to the Baylor game, but the home crowd gave them the spark that the crowd in the Bahamas couldn't quite give. Well, those of them that didn't leave a 6 point game between top 15 teams with less than five minutes left. Louisville basketball fans are quite a strange breed.
The crowd highlights of this game had to be giving Spike Albrecht (yep, the one of Michigan title game fame) an earful from the moment he stepped on the court until the moment the final horn blew, including all of the time he was sitting on the bench. Top quotes included classics such as, "Hey Spike, where's your banner? Oh yeah, it's up there! *pointing to the Louisville championship banner*" and "Hey Spike, let me see your ring!". Albrecht never reacted in the way fans may have hoped, but it was clear that the heckling did not go unheard.
The biggest crowd letdown (aside from the never surprising exodus), came during the "Go! Cards!" timeout. The stage was set for the grand return of the "Go Cards! Beat Purdue!" chant. It was a massive dud. Execution was poor across the board, as the cheerleaders were ill prepared for the chant, the crowd had no advance warning, and the band attempted to begin the chant the exact same way as the "Go! Cards!" chant begins. It was an all around flop, and it's best left forgotten.
In addition to the strong performance against Purdue, Louisville officially took the show on the road last night when they traveled to Phoenix to take on Grand Canyon University. The GCU crowd refers to its team as the 'Lopes, and a google search confirms that 'Lopes is short for Antelopes. I'm rather disappointed it isn't Jackelopes. Watching last night's game on TV meant being subjected to a GCU homer broadcast, which was actually quite the production. I'd usually give announcers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to "facts optional announcing" but they were so biased last night that I couldn't do it. These guys were clearly announcing based on how things seemed based on how things actually were. Some of the winners included saying "Refs allowed them to play in the first half" after the referees called more than 20 first half fouls and "Shots are starting to fall for the Cardinals from behind the arc after shooting just two of seven in the first half," when the Cards, at the time, were 2/7 from behind the arc in the second half.
The announcers were more bearable when Louisville was up by ten than when they were losing, though. The Cards were in a battle for the entirety of the first half, even trailing by a point at the half after a buzzer beating three. Louisville did what it does pretty early in the second half going on a bit of a run to get up by ten. The Cards never looked back from that point, with the Antelopes never getting back to within any closer than eight.
I have to give credit to the GCU fanbase, though. In only their fourth year in Division 1 basketball, as members of the WAC, Grand Canyon is right on the edge of having something special. They started the season undefeated last year before coming the Yum! Center and getting punched in the mouth, but their crowd was ready for the rematch this year. Stories came out of students camping out for days in preparation for the game and they packed their arena with a record 7,400+. The students and fans were prepared for arena wide cheers and there were times when everyone in the building were on their feet and jumping. It was a great road atmosphere for the Cardinals to get their feet wet in a road game, and the Cards escaped a true trap game. Louisville was without center Anas Mahmoud due to concussion symptoms from an elbow he took in the Purdue game and Matz Stockman was up to the task. Matz scored a career high and was all over the glass, putting up a solid game defensively as well. Big man depth will be extremely important in the ACC so seeing Matz play well is refreshing.
The Cards will have a couple of cupcakes this week before beginning a gauntlet of a holiday season. Louisville will take on Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, and Notre Dame (at Notre Dame) over a two week stretch. If the Cards can win two, I'll be pleased. Three and I'll be more than happy, and if they can win all four, I'll be over the moon.
Cardinal XI See Their Title Pursuit Come to a Close
The men's soccer team hosted defending national champion Stanford last night in the men's soccer championship quarterfinals. The final spot in the College Cup in Houston was on the line, and only one team could fill it. This one was available on ESPN3 and viewers were serenaded by a familiar voice as Sean Moth was the play-by-play man. Moth and his color commentating cohort put on a good broadcast and did a pretty solid job of remaining mostly unbiased.
The first half was a scoreless affair and was mostly devoid of action. Louisville had a couple of gripes about uncalled fouls (including a striker being pulled down in the box which would have resulted in a PK attempt), but the game was well called for the most part. The refs had their hands full with a particularly physical game, which even included the referees. A sideline tussle resulted in the line judge being taken out and heading to the training room with a clear shoulder injury. The fourth official was called into action and the injured ref eventually returned as the new fourth official with his left arm in a sling. I wish him the best.
Stanford has not been scored on in the NCAA tournament since last year's quarterfinals, so it appeared that this game would come down to whoever scored first. Both teams continued pressure early in the second half, and it was Stanford that eventually broke through. It was set pieces that put the Cardinals away, as Stanford scored their first goal in the 64th minute on a corner. The goal was originally ruled to Foster Langsdorf, then changed to an own goal because of the deflection off of a Louisville defender, before being returned Langsdorf for his 15th goal of the season. It was another set piece that put the game away for Stanford when Sam Werner slotted a free kick away in the 79th minute. Louisville was running out of time and couldn't claw their way back.
While it's a disappointing way to end the season, but no one can be disappointed with how far the Cards went this season. After preseason polls put the Cards near the bottom of their own division, no one would have expected the Cards to earn the number four overall seed and for Lynn Stadium to host three NCAA tournament games. Ken Lolla continues to be a magician, and I don't expect that it will be too long before the Cards are contending again for their first title.
Louisville Ladies Host the Big One
The women's basketball team will be taking on the rivals from down the road at the Yum! Center today at 2PM. If you're reading this, since I'm so late, I'm sure you're already well aware of this. Walz's teams' lack of success against the Wildcats has been well documented, but any given team can win any given game on any given day. The Cards are taking on their third consecutive ranked team and will hope to put together the complete game performance that has eluded them in the previous two games. Paulie will have a complete writeup tomorrow and here's hoping that it's a positive one.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
It wouldn't be a Sunday Cardinal Couple post without my weekly shameless plug for the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour. We took the airwaves yesterday and discussed much of the same things I just wrote about. Thanks to Crescent Hill Radio for putting up with us for yet another week, and if you missed it, you can catch the recording here.
Until next time, Go Cards!