Bobby Petrino looks at a lot of film during these dog days of May.
It's sort of like peeking through the living-room blinds at the weird couple down the street. Nothing like getting to know the neighbors.
|Brian Brohm takes over at quarterback in his second season. (Getty Images)|
Because of the move, Petrino knows Louisville is big time both in perception and reality. Finally. No, it's not the old Big East, but it's not the current Conference USA either, which Louisville vacated. Now comes the hard part: actually competing in a major-college conference.
"It's real exciting," said Louisville's third-year coach, whose team went 11-1 with a top-10 finish in 2004. "The move was something that was good timing for us, because when you come off a season like we had, you worry about being complacent. For our players right now, we're hungry."
The neighbors aren't exactly next door, mind you. The new Big East extends from Connecticut to Tampa to Louisville, the westernmost outpost of the new league. Eight teams in eight states. Might as well call it the Big Let's Do Whatever We Can To Keep This Thing Together In Order to Keep Our BCS Berth.
No shame there, especially since such shuffling is the reality of college football these days. The Big East's situation is tied directly to the ACC starting the latest realignment tsunami two years ago. The fallout: Eighteen teams (15 percent of I-A) have found new homes since the end of 2004.
|Big East||South Florida, Cincinnati, Louisville||Boston College, Temple|
|C-USA||Marshall, Rice, SMU, Tulsa, UCF, UTEP||Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, TCU, Army|
|Sun Belt||Florida Atlantic, Florida International||New Mexico State, Idaho, Utah State|
|WAC||New Mexico State, Idaho, Utah State||UTEP, SMU, Rice, Tulsa|
Louisville might be the most fortunate when it joins the Big East along with South Florida and Cincinnati. (Temple has been kicked out of the Big East. Boston College officially departs July 1, leaving an eight-team configuration).
It wasn't forced to move. The school embraced -- no, planned for -- the move. The Big East life raft includes that automatic BCS berth. The Louisville program was operating like a 13th SEC program as it was. It was about time for a move anyway. Frankly, its old home in C-USA didn't measure up.
"When we look back 20 years from now this will be a real landmark move," said athletic director Tom Jurich, who had been working behind the scenes on a Big East move for years. "The Big East is an icon."
The Cardinals most likely will be favored to win the Big East in 2005, which almost assures toes will be stepped on in the conference. Louisville wasn't a factor nationally in football until John L. Smith went 9-3 in 2000. Even then, Smith used his success as a stepping stone to Michigan State.
In the midst of Petrino playing footsie with Auburn (2003) and LSU (2004), Louisville continued to grow out of its basketball shadow. The Cardinals came within a dropped interception at Miami last year from going undefeated and notching what would have arguably been the greatest win in school history.
"It's hard not to think about, no question about that," Petrino said. "The thing I was proud of was, we battled them. We never took a step backwards. They did think they belonged on the field."
A school-record six players off that 2004 team were drafted. The Big East Cardinals could be better. Petrino (20-5 in two seasons) has one of the top five sets of receivers. The nation's other speedy tailback named Bush, Michael, packs 250 pounds. Louisville scored at least 34 points in 11 of 12 games and finished No. 15 in total defense. (Up from No. 93 in 2003)
Sophomore quarterback Brian Brohm essentially is a returning starter. He was thrown in at key times in each game last year as a freshman backing up senior Stefan LeFors. Petrino did it with the thought of having an experienced quarterback ready for Big East play.
"It couldn't have worked out better," Petrino said. "We put Brian in against Kentucky in the opener with the score 0-0. Brian takes us down on the first touchdown drive of the game. Really, that set the tempo for the whole year."
Louisville already participates in a huge rivalry -- the bloodletting against Kentucky. The football rivalry with the Wildcats is a disjointed one. The schools have met only 17 times, the series resuming in 1994. The program was mostly an independent until 1996. That is, if you discount those rough and tumble days in the Missouri Valley in the '60s.
So what is it going to take to get the blood boiling in a new league scattered across those eight far-flung states? An overtime thriller against Pittsburgh? A bottle thrown from the stands at West Virginia? An upset at Connecticut?
"The tradition," Petrino said, "is yet to be set."
While Louisville figures out its place in the Big East universe, these are the best new rivalries not on the national radar:
Fresno vs. Boise State: Boise wasn't I-A until 1996. It wasn't in the WAC until 2001. Now it is on the cusp of grabbing a BCS berth. Over Pat Hill's Bulldog red body, of course. These two teams have been trying to prove to the world that they are worthy. Unfortunately for Hill, Fresno's coach, he is at the bottom of the hill is this new rivalry -- 0-4 against the Broncos.
Cal vs. USC: Yes, Bears vs. Trojans. The argument can be made that Cal has been better than USC in each of the last two meetings. Cal won in overtime in 2003. USC survived a frantic finish to win at the Coliseum last year. The Trojans go to Berkeley this year on Nov. 12. Without Aaron Rodgers, the Bears will grind it out this year with Marshawn Lynch. Expect something dramatic.
Virginia Tech vs. the rest of the ACC: Who are these strange visitors from Blacksburg who block kicks and play Beamerball? Surprise conference winners last year, the Hokies are the team to beat in 2005. After going 7-1 in their first season in the conference, Tech can take heart. It is now one game over .500 (154-153-18) against the other 11 ACC teams.
Memphis vs. Southern Miss: Both programs make do with second-tier SEC players from their regions. In the 10th season of Conference USA, this conference rivalry is not old but it is the most important. With the loss of Louisville, both Deep South schools are the cream of re-jiggered C-USA. The winner of this annual meeting now has the inside track to the conference title.
Utah vs. BYU: A traditional rivalry but now more important than ever. Utah is threatening to become a national player while once-proud BYU would settle for a bowl berth. This one is edgy: New Utah coach Kyle Whittingham turned down interest from his alma mater (BYU) to stay in Salt Lake City. Sign seen during Utah's Fiesta Bowl-clinching victory over BYU last year: "Where's Your God Now?"
New Mexico State vs. Texas-El Paso: Traditional rivals, but this one gets juicier because two coaches fallen from grace -- Mike Price and Hal Mumme -- face off on Sept. 3.