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September 23, 2013

FIU plummets; Louisville's schedule concerns




17-24, 28-21 and 72-0 don't look like scores with any kind of normal progression or sequence, but those are the scores of the last three football games between Florida International and the University of Louisville.

For those questioning the strength of schedule of the Cards they need to only look at the first game of the series in 2011 when the Panthers defeated Louisville in PJCS. Last season in Miami Louisville held on in a rainstorm to win by a touchdown.

That begs the question, "What happened?"

How can a college football program ascend so quickly only to plummet to the depths of FBS teams. FIU is a study in the delight/disappointment of college athletics.

After making the jump to Division I in 2005 the south Florida school quickly started piling up wins. They soon became famous (infamous) for the historic brawl with crosstown rival Miami in the inaugural game between the schools on October 14, 2006.

Located amid a recruiting hotbed FIU Head Coach Mario Cristabal led the school to it's first two bowl games in 2010 and 2011. But after the impressive win over Louisville in 2011 quality wins over good teams came few and far between and from mid-season in 2011 until the end of 2012 the program went into free fall, finishing the 2012 season 3-9. Despite his successes he was fired and a new coach hired to resurrect a program that had risen and died in a short period.

With players leaving, flunking and recruiting at a standstill, Ron Turner was hired as coach at the beginning of the 2013 season. He is now arguably the coach of the worst team in FBS football.

Unfortunately Louisville will only be judged for playing a terrible team, an event that Louisville could not control. When the contract was signed to play FIU was an up-and-coming power and the Cards were scheduling a team smack in the middle of an area that the coaches like to recruit and the home of nearly two dozen current UofL players. A very wise move by any measure. The school was also in sunny south Florida, an opportunity for Card fans to enjoy the warm weather. Now it looks like UofL simply scheduled a "cupcake."

So what about Louisville's weak schedule? There's nothing that anyone can do anything about it. As the sheriff said in 'Open Range', "That's just the way things are".

Every team in the country is a prisoner of the league they are in when it comes to scheduling. And this year the Cards are in purgatory when it comes to league opponents. The good thing is that next season the Cards will enter into the promised land of the ACC and years of hand wringing over scheduling will come to an end. The happiest person in the city will be UofL's schedule-maker, Kevin Miller. Despite his best efforts good teams won't come to PJCS to play the Cards.

I, for one, agree with the athletic department and their unwillingness to play a two-for-one with the two being away. The Cards are no longer red-headed stepchildren who need to beg for the chance to play good teams.

Since Louisville defeated highly-ranked Florida in 2002 and Miami and West Virginia in 2008 at PJCS, schools are unwilling to risk their chance to play for a national championship by losing to the Cardinals.

It's sad that Louisville's schedule will keep them out of the national championship. With one-third of the BCS poll being based on computer rankings mostly determined by strength of schedule, the Cards have little chance of finishing one or two.

Last season when the Cards were 9-0 they were 10th in the BCS rankings behind LSU with two losses and behind three teams with a loss. The same will be true this season. It looks like for 2013 Cardinal fans will have to be satisfied with a win-filled season and a high-profile bowl game.

Would you have taken that in 2009? I know I would have.


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