GREENSBORO, N.C. — Over the last two seasons, the Louisville Cardinals have gone 23-3 overall and have earned a trip to the Sugar Bowl, where they smoked Florida 33-23. Nevertheless, very few college football fans and media have given them credit of being a dominant football team.
Of course, that’s what happens when you play in the lesser leagues like the American Athletic Conference and the Big East, which Louisville was a member of the last two seasons. As a result, the Cardinals couldn’t be happier that they’ve joined the ACC. They believe switching conferences will give them instant credibility and nobody will be able to say they’ve feasted on also-rans.
"I love the move," Louisville star defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin said. "We’re finally going to get the recognition we deserve. We’re going to show we’re not what you say we are."
It’s understandable why the Louisville players would be irked by the constant dissing. Over the past two seasons, the Cardinals are a combined 5-0 against teams from the SEC and ACC.
Moreover, Louisville never reached higher than seventh in the Associated Press poll during that time frame.
"We were glad they changed us (to the ACC), because they kept saying we weren’t any good and that the teams we were playing weren’t any good," senior wide receiver DeVante Parker said. "We’re going to be in the spotlight, especially if we’re winning. If we’re losing, being in that spotlight isn’t going to be good at all."
Louisville enters the ACC with a familiar, yet controversial face — Bobby Petrino.
The 53-year-old was very successful during his first stint with the Cardinals, going 41-9 over four seasons, which included two conference championships and an Orange Bowl win in his last year in 2006.
But despite the inarguable success he’s enjoyed as a coach, he comes with a lot of baggage and controversy.
Petrino first left Louisville to be the head coach of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons (after signing a 10-year extension the year before), but abruptly quit after 13 games and a 3-10 record in 2007, to be the head coach of Arkansas, where he encountered even more trouble four years later. In April of 2012, Petrino wrecked his motorcycle while in the company of a former Razorback female volleyball player, whom it had been improperly hired by Petrino as a development coordinator for the football program.
After an internal investigation, Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long decided that Petrino’s attempts to mislead both him and the public about the accident and his relationship with volleyball player were grounds to fire Petrino.
"I need to prove to myself and everybody else on a daily basis that this is the right decision," Petrino said when asked about his past transgressions. "One of the things that I’m going to work hard on is coaching the person as much as the player. With the experiences I’ve had, I could help young men and the obstacles they’re going to be presented with off the field and the situations that are gonna come up, be able to help them and give them second chances."
Following a year out of football, Petrino was hired by Western Kentucky, a newly minted Division I program that was trying to make a mark. He spent one season there before being hired to return to Louisville following the departure of head coach Charlie Strong to Texas.
It’s a return that many thought would never come close to happening.
When asked if it feels like an old job or a new one, Petrino said he already felt well acquainted: "It feels very similar. There’s a lot of familiarity with it."
With a familiar face at coach and a vast determination to prove they really were as good as their record indicated the last couple of seasons, Louisville is all set to make its mark on the ACC in a big and memorable way.
"When we were on stage, we performed," Mauldin said. "If you want an encore, we’ll give you an encore."