When the 2013 season began, the path was set for the Louisville Cardinals to have a special season that included a return to the BCS and a possible spot in the BCS National Championship. They returned a ton of talent to the roster this season in a conference that was lacking any other real contenders for the AAC title. Teddy Bridgewater was arguably the best quarterback in the nation back in August with a Heisman Trophy run considered an inevitability. But after just one bump in the road, all of that has gone away and because of the high level of expectations placed on them, 2013 will end up as a disappointment that finishes up in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
At 10-1 heading into their regular season finale against the Cincinnati Bearcats, the best that Louisville can do is grab a share of the AAC title with the Central Florida Knights (if UCF loses this week). However, there is no way for them to move ahead of the Knights to get the conference’s automatic BCS bid, relegating them to the AAC’s No. 2 bowl destination at best, which turns out to be Orlando for the Russell Athletic Bowl. If the Cardinals lose to the Bearcats, then Cincinnati would jump ahead of Louisville for the bid and the Cardinals would be left to drift in the at-large pool, waiting for another bowl to come calling.
Perhaps it’s unfair to call 2013 a disappointment for Louisville, but that is the consequence of expectation that the team brought on itself. After emphatically upsetting the Florida Gators last season in the Sugar Bowl, which signaled the arrival of Bridgewater as an elite quarterback prospect, nothing short of perfection would do with the talent they had coming back and the schedule they faced. Even if they finish 12-1 with a bowl win, the Cardinals’ season will be a letdown from where they were supposed to be and they’ll leave for the ACC in 2014 with a whimper rather than the roar they thought they would.
On the surface, a one-loss season is something to be proud of. But for Louisville, it will be a haunting reminder of what they were supposed to accomplish. When you set expectations as high as they did this offseason, a year with no conference title, no BCS bid and no Heisman Trophy for Teddy Bridgewater is a season that will fall well short of where it was supposed to be in 2013.