Is Louisville Really a Top 25 Team?

Handicapping News: Is Louisville Really a Top 25 Team?

One of the quiet surprises of the new college football offseason is how Louisville became virtually a "consensus" Top 25 team. They currently sit right at #25 in the Associated Press poll heading into Sunday's nationally televised game against state-rival Kentucky. The Coach's Poll has them two spots out of the rankings with a point total that ranks 27th. The respected Athlon publication had them at #23 in their summer newsstand edition.

But, if you start asking people WHY Louisville is rated so high, the only logical answer seems to be "Well, they play a very weak schedule."

Yes, that's true. What does that have to do with anything when you're ranking team quality?! Playing a weak schedule doesn't make YOU better. It's just makes your record better. And, in most cases, MISLEADING! It's possible to be 10-2 and not be one of the best 25 teams in the country. This is actually fairly common when you're talking about teams who compile records in Conference USA, the MAC, or the WAC.

Aren't pollsters smart enough to realize that?

Apparently not. Let's quickly review what Louisville did last year to see if there's any evidence that something special is on the way this season:

  • Went 7-5 in the regular season, despite playing a relatively soft non-conference schedule that included Murray State and Florida Atlantic.

  • Ranked 103rd in the nation in total offense, while playing in the Big East conference where it's easy to post big numbers if you know what you're doing. This team basically had NO offense last year!

  • Ranked a very respectable 23rd on defense, which would adjust back toward the pack once you accounted for strength of schedule. This wasn't really one of the best 25 defenses on an even playing field. But, this side of the ball did play hard and accomplish some things. We'll gladly give them that.

  • Lost their bowl game to NC State 31-24. This is basically the same NC State team that got throttled by Tennessee Friday Night to start the new season. NC State actually returns more starters than Louisville does in 2012. Did THAT Wolfpack team strike you as top 25 caliber?

Clearly, last year's Louisville team wasn't a top 25 team. You'd be hard pressed to say they were top 45. Why the big increase this year? Did they recruit a bunch of superstars? Louisville? Did they install some new unbeatable schematic on offense? No. Their schedule got easier because West Virginia left the Big East for the Big 12, and the non-conference slate is manageable with Kentucky, Missouri State, North Carolina, Florida International, and Southern Miss. Anybody projecting out wins and losses is going to give Louisville a good record. They may not play a ranked team all season.

Maybe Louisville will show significant improvement from last season and justify their early rankings. They can sure make a statement today against Kentucky of the SEC. Oddsmakers installed the Cardinals as a 14-point favorite initially, with smart money coming in against Louisville at first to bring the line down to -13 as we write this.

Just remember that a team can be #45 in the country and go 10-2 if they're playing a bunch of teams from the 50-110 range. What's scary...is that if Louisville can win as favorites through September, they're going to keep CLIMBING the polls as other teams lose! This scenario usually plays out at least once each season with somebody. Louisville is in position to be that somebody in 2012.

It will be interesting to see how the markets respond to this dynamic. Louisville is clearly getting respect with this Week One Vegas pointspread. Have the markets been tricked? Or, is it skeptics who are missing out on Louisville taking a legitimate step forward into the big time? We'll know more after Sunday's rivalry game with Kentucky. Week Three's matchup with North Carolina will be important. A road game at Southern Miss on September 29th will provide a good away test. By the time Big East action gets here, we'll have a much better sense of where Louisville stands in the big picture.

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