After rough start, Louisville is right where many expected

Louisville sits in third place in the Atlantic Division, bowl eligible once again. If you just tuned into the season then that sounds about right.

If you have seen all 10 games, then you have probably scratched your head at various times and wondered, ‘What am I watching?’ This has been far from a pretty season in Louisville, and that is something folks in town are not quite used to, not after the success the Cards had over the previous three years. Three different quarterbacks have played; the offensive line has been among the worst units in the ACC; the defense has struggled with tackling and consistent effort.

Despite all that, Louisville is exactly where it was pegged to be in the preseason, with a shot at yet another nine-win season in Year 2 in the ACC. We knew the opening stretch of 2015 would be difficult with such a young team facing a tough schedule; we knew the second half would lighten up. Indeed, the Cards opened 0-3 but have won six of their last seven games with a crucial game at Pittsburgh set for Saturday. To get to nine wins, the Cards must win out and that means beating a resurgent Pitt team that has won with an improved defense and better quarterback play out of Nathan Peterman over the last month.

Both Louisville and Pitt are Big East refugees; Pitt has been in the ACC one year longer. While it might be tempting for Louisville fans to look over at Pitt and say, ‘Hey look at that, already competing for a division title!’ the comparisons are not necessarily the same. The Panthers are vastly improved, yes, but they do not have to contend with Florida State and Clemson on a yearly basis. Pitt got the benefit of going into the Coastal Division; Louisville is in the tougher Atlantic.

Still, Louisville joins Clemson and Florida State as the only three teams on that side of the division guaranteed a winning league record. That should say something about where Louisville stands as a program, considering it has finished ahead of more long-standing Atlantic teams both years it has been in the league. Some thought NC State could be a dark-horse contender this year. Louisville put an end to that notion in early October with a win in that game.

It is easy to get lost inside a season when there are a few cringe-worthy performances. Is it disappointing Louisville did not pull out close losses against Auburn, Houston and Clemson? Of course. Louisville had opportunities to win all three. But the season did not go into the tank. Coach Bobby Petrino praised his players Monday for keeping a positive attitude despite the rough start. Nobody on the team knew what it was like to drop the first three games to a season. They promised to do better.

And, basically, the Cards have won all the games they were supposed to win, and beat favored NC State on the road to get back to a bowl for a sixth straight season.

“We stuck to our beliefs,” Petrino said. “I feel like we’re playing pretty good right now. It's a good swing, that's for sure.”

On the flip side, only one of their victories has come against a winning FBS team (the Wolfpack). They won ugly against Boston College and Wake Forest. They were tied with Virginia headed into the fourth quarter last week. It has been a slog all year. That is why the Pitt game is so important in how the overall season will be viewed. Maybe more so with Kentucky to close out the regular season.

Yes, Louisville is about where we expected. But a few more losses, and the complexion of the season changes.