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Playing the 'Cards

Debating Louisville and its merits as No. 3 team

Posted: Wednesday November 8, 2006 11:46AM; Updated: Wednesday November 8, 2006 11:46AM
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How would Brian Brohm fare against a top defense like Ohio State's or Michigan's? We may get a chance to find out.
How would Brian Brohm fare against a top defense like Ohio State's or Michigan's? We may get a chance to find out.
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I would have loved to begin this week's Mailbag discussing the many reasons why Borat is going to wind up being the signature comedy of my generation. I would have loved to discuss the ways Steve Carrell has taken his performance on The Office to a whole other level this season. And I would be thrilled to offer you my reaction to the recent bombshells that both Reese Witherspoon and Britney Spears are back on the market (what are you going to tell me next -- that Brooklyn Decker has decided she'd rather pick college games?)

But I knew what this week's Mailbag topic would be as soon as I got back to my hotel room last Thursday night and checked my e-mail. We shall call this Mailbag: "Louisville: Cultural Learnings of the BCS to Benefit Glorious Readers of Mailbag." The following is just a sampling of the flood of messages that poured in beginning even before the West Virginia-Louisville game was over.

Do you honestly believe after watching this game that Louisville is worthy of a title shot and can actually compete with a team like OSU or Michigan? There's no way they put up 44 against the OSU defense, and the OSU offense would tear Louisville's defense to shreds.
-- Justin, Auora, Ohio

How is it possible that a team like Louisville can be considered a powerhouse alongside a team like Ohio State, when their defense gives up 540 yards in a game?
-- Ryan Dees, Naples, Fla.

A resurgent Big East? Are you kidding? I've seen PlayStation games (novice setting) that had more defense than WVU or Louisville. Neither of these teams could hold a candle to Michigan or Ohio State.
-- Jeff Christensen, Pittsburgh

The Big East is a very good BASKETBALL conference and Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Auburn, etc., will beat Louisville by three to four touchdowns. BCS, please don't hose the fans with such a poor national championship as Ohio State-Michigan winner vs. Louisville -- it would be no contest.
-- Tom, Houston

While this may seem like one big collective pile of angst, there are actually two separate issues being raised in the wake of last Thursday's game. On one I side with Louisville, on the other I don't. They are:

1. Could an undefeated Louisville team hang with Ohio State or Michigan in the national championship game? Probably not.

The team I saw last Thursday has a phenomenal quarterback and receivers and a good-but-not-great running game. Its defense is not nearly as bad as people are making it out to be, but it's certainly not elite, either. Ohio State's defense would be able to hold down Brian Brohm's productivity, and Troy Smith would likely eat the Cardinals alive. Michigan's offense might not overpower Louisville, but its defense would stifle the Cards' running game, rendering them one-dimensional.

So if that's the way I feel, why place Louisville No. 3 in the latest Power Rankings, you ask? Because I don't feel any more confident in the teams behind them. None of the highly ranked SEC teams is without its own flaws. And while everyone's all up in arms about the Cardinals allowing 540 yards, might I remind you that just five days earlier, No. 4 Texas gave up 518 to a 5-4 Texas Tech team that previously lost to Colorado? No. 8 Cal surrendered 516 last week to 4-5 UCLA.

If I'm going to rank a one-loss team ahead of an 8-0 major-conference team that just beat the No. 3 team in the country, it's going to have be someone who's blatantly head-and-shoulders above the rest. As far as I can tell, that team does not exist this season. Realistically, Louisville is probably not the third-best team in the country, but I don't claim to be smart enough to know who is.

2. Would an undefeated Louisville team deserve to play Ohio State or Michigan in the national championship game? Absolutely, positively yes.

This continuing backlash against Louisville and the Big East is both arrogant and ignorant (and you know it's bad when the leading spokesman for the cause is Terry Bradshaw). Supporters of the SEC and other conferences are certainly entitled to their opinions about the inferiority of the Big East, but let's not pretend like they're in any way based on facts. Fact I: The Big East's champion beat the SEC's champion in a bowl game just last year. Fact II: The SEC (28-7) and Big East (26-8) have the two best non-conference records this season. Fact III: The Big East is 11-7 against other BCS-conference opponents this season; no other league has more than seven wins or is above .500.

If we had a playoff, maybe Louisville would get exposed in the first round. Maybe it wouldn't. There's no way to know. All we know is that in the system that exists, the Cardinals, if they finish undefeated, will have done everything you could possibly ask of them. They went out and scheduled two of the winningest programs in the country over the past decade, Miami and Kansas State. They did not schedule a I-AA opponent. And by my count, they will most likely have beaten nine bowl teams (Kentucky, Miami, K-State, Middle Tennessee, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Rutgers, USF and Pittsburgh) by the end of the year. No other team will be able to claim that.

So basically, what the e-mailers are suggesting is that we penalize a perfectly qualified undefeated based purely on the subjective assumption that a one-loss SEC team would give Ohio State or Michigan a better game. In an age in which George Mason can reach the Final Four, the 83-79 Cardinals can win the World Series and Wake Forest is in contention to win the ACC, I'd say that's a pretty big assumption.

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