It is no secret that I have been critical of my alma mater for its failure to continue its longstanding tradition of national scheduling. I have proposed a home and home series between Georgia and Michigan as a good step in the direction of restoring this historic practice.
While arguing in favor of "The Movement," I have attempted to rebut the usual arguments that the Red and Black are unable to schedule tough out-of-conference opponents from other regions because of the difficulties of an eight-game S.E.C. schedule, the neutral site series with Florida, and the in-state rivalry with Georgia Tech.
Somehow, everything always winds up being Jacksonville's fault.
While these arguments are far from frivolous, I do not find them altogether persuasive and I have pointed to comparable examples of such similarly situated schools as Auburn (yes, Auburn), Florida (yes, Florida), Oklahoma, and Texas in making my case.
Earlier this week, I had occasion to offer a few thoughts on Louisville's place in the college football landscape, which led me to examine the Cardinals' 2006 slate and conclude that they, too, represent a team the 'Dawgs would do well to emulate. Consider the following:
As of last year, Louisville is a member of a B.C.S. conference. Yes, that conference is the Big East, but, as much as I would love to be able to criticize the league's status among the big boys, my complaints have been muffled (if not altogether silenced) by last January's Sugar Bowl result.
Yeah, O.K., the Big East can stay.
The Cardinals play a seven-game Big East schedule. Actually, for all practical purposes, the Cardinals play a de facto eight-game Big East schedule, since U. of L. travels to Temple on September 9 and the Owls were members of the conference for 14 of the last 15 years. Granted, it's just Temple, but, while such Big East bottom-feeders as Rutgers have been on the upswing, lower-tier S.E.C. programs like Kentucky have shown no improvement.
Speaking of the Wildcats, Louisville begins its season with an in-state rivalry game against an out-of-conference opponent. As woeful as Kentucky has been at football lately, the intensity of the annual Bluegrass State showdown makes this game competitive.
U.K. narrowly leads the all-time series with a 10-8 record and the Wildcats' recent clashes with the Cardinals have included some barn-burners, resulting in scores such as 20-14 in 1994, 13-10 in 1995, 40-34 in 2000, 22-17 in 2002, and 31-24 in 2005. Three of the last six series meetings have been decided by seven or fewer points.
In a completely unrelated item, here is a picture of Mary-Louise Parker sitting on her couch and watering her plants. Happy now?
Finally, just as Georgia travels to Jacksonville for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, U. of L. will venture away from home to play a regular season game at a neutral site in the opponent's home state. On October 6, Louisville faces Middle Tennessee in Nashville.
Don't laugh . . . all right, laugh, but not quite as much as you'd like. Although they won't be mistaken for the Gators anytime soon, the Blue Raiders have put some scares into people, coming up just short in games against Alabama (39-34 in 2002) and Missouri (41-40 in 2003), hanging reasonably tough with L.S.U. (30-14 in 2001) and Georgia (29-10 in 2003), and depriving Vanderbilt of a bowl bid in 2005. (Unlike Florida, M.T.S.U. didn't need overtime and a questionable celebration penalty to beat the Commodores, either.)
So there you have it . . . in 2006, the Cardinals will face what amounts to an eight-game league slate as a member of a B.C.S. conference, travel out of state for a neutral site game, and play a fierce rivalry game against an in-state squad belonging to another league. Does that sound familiar?
What, then, will Louisville be doing with the other two Saturdays on its schedule? Will the Cardinals be hosting Western Kentucky or Louisiana-Lafayette, perhaps? Actually, no, they won't.
U. of L. welcomes Miami---not the one from Ohio---on September 16 then follows that up with a trip to Manhattan---not the one in New York---for a date with Kansas State on September 23.
For playing Miami and Kansas State back to back, Louisville deserves a hand.
I do not wish to overstate the point. While Louisville is taking on a challenge that is similar in character to that faced by the Bulldogs on an annual basis, there are differing degrees of difficulty that are undeniable. Furthermore, the Bulldogs will be hosting Colorado in Sanford Stadium this September, so there is no question that the Red and Black are moving in the right direction where out-of-conference scheduling is concerned.
That having been said, though, the Cardinals will play six home games this season and they will travel to Kansas, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania (twice), and Tennessee while taking on three non-conference opponents in venues other than Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Four of the 12 games on Louisville's 2006 schedule are against teams that have played in B.C.S. bowl games within the previous three seasons.
U. of L. does not face the same scheduling restrictions as Georgia on a yearly basis. This year, though, the Cardinals have placed themselves in circumstances comparable to the Bulldogs' and they have not backed down from the resulting challenge.
Reasonable football fans may argue whether K-State is really that much better than Western Kentucky---after all, the Wildcats beat the Hilltoppers by a lackluster 27-13 margin in Manhattan to kick off the 2004 campaign---but this much, at least, is clear: Louisville's scheduling is designed to facilitate a national championship run. Can we in Bulldog Nation make the same claim?