<span style='font-size:12pt;line-height:100%'>Louisville shows it has the ability to make an immediate impact when it enters the Big East in '05</span>
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
<span style='color:blue'>By Ray Fittpaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</span>
Everyone knows what Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino will bring to the Big East Conference: A lot of personality and a perennial top-25 college basketball program. What the Big East probably wasn't banking on was getting a top-25 football program out of Louisville.
The Louisville football team is 3-0 and ranked 22nd in this week's Associated Press poll.
The Big East is guaranteed an automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series for now, but there are no guarantees in the long term. That's why the much-maligned conference needs teams such as Louisville and Connecticut to hit the ground running. Connecticut is in its first season in the league and has a 3-1 record heading into its game tomorrow against Pitt. Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida join next season.
Among the three new entries from Conference USA, Louisville is in the best shape. South Florida is 2-1 and Cincinnati 2-2. Next season, Louisville will return seven starters on offense, including the entire offensive line. All-conference quarterback Stefan LeFors graduates, but Brian Brohm, the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country last season, is his backup and is 19 for 25 for 165 yards in mop-up duty this season. The defense graduates six players, but some young players behind them are well-regarded.
Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese is looking for several teams to step up their play, but he expects Louisville to be one of the teams to fill the void left by Miami and Virginia Tech, which left after last season to join the ACC.
"That's the interesting thing," Tranghese said. "There's an opportunity for a lot of people in our league to be the name team. Our coaches all think they can get there. Louisville thinks they can do it. West Virginia thinks they can do it. Pitt thinks they can do it. We have a lot of teams that can do it. It's very different from the way it used to be with Miami, where everyone lined up behind them for second. It's not going to be that way anymore. Who is that [name] team going to be five years from now? I don't know, but it's going to be interesting to find out."
Tranghese recently took a trip to Louisville and came away impressed. He said the Cardinals should benefit from a recruiting standpoint now that they are part of a BCS conference.
"Louisville is good now," Tranghese said. "But now they think they can sell the fact that they'll be in a conference with an automatic berth in the BCS. That will help them. I've been to Louisville. They have some good young football players. They got the top quarterback recruit in the country. Louisville has potential."
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, in his second season, has the only team in Division I-A with two shutouts this season. The Cardinals blanked Kentucky, 24-0, in the opener and then shut out North Carolina on the road, 34-0, last week. Louisville's toughest test comes next Thursday when it travels to No. 4 Miami for an ESPN national telecast.
"I probably wasn't expecting our defense to play this well," Petrino said. "But we have a bunch of guys back. Last season they took a lot of criticism. We didn't have much experience last year. This year, they're playing faster and together and making plays. They're a lot further along than I thought they would be."
The same can be said for the entire program. And for the Big East, that's good news.
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