LOUISVILLE (WAVE) – I recently checked the Alabama football roster and confirmed the worst: The 2018 team that will defend the national championship has talent, depth, size, and athleticism. Even the cheerleaders, the marching band, and the elephant mascot are intimidating.
But I didn't find any figments of Hollywood's imagination. No vampires, monsters, or players who can vault tall buildings in a single bound. I also didn't see any news about Coach Nick Saban walking on the water at Lake Lurleen, named for George Wallace's wife.
In other words, I'm not sure why some University of Louisville fans and analysts are regarding the Cardinals' Sept. 1 opener against Alabama with such fear and loathing. I see it the same way I think Coach Bobby Petrino does: A unique opportunity to make history and enhance the program's brand.
Please understand, I'm not picking a UofL upset. But I also don't think the Cards will get pushed around as if they're, oh, Southeast Dogpatch State. Saban will not be coaching against an empty golf shirt.
In fact, Petrino did a pretty good job of challenging the Alabama dynasty in his four years at Arkansas. Sure, he was 0-4 against Saban, but at least one of the games could easily have been a Razorback win. Unfortunately for Petrino, he got fired for having a relationship with a female member of the athletics department.
Saban also knows Petrino can recruit here, there, and anywhere. His current roster has 10 players from Alabama, most of whom were probably snubbed by Saban's program.
Of these, I am most interested in linebacker Boosie Winslow, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound redshirt junior from Opelika who transferred from South Carolina; offensive lineman Kenny Thomas, a 6-6, 320-pound senior from Montgomery; and OL Toryque Bateman, a 6-6, 309-pound redshirt freshman from Gadsden City.
I also believe Petrino's offense will be just fine with redshirt sophomore Jawon Pass replacing the electrifying Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Since Pass is more of a traditional QB than Jackson, it figures the offense will look more like it did with Brian Brohm during Petrino's first stint at UofL – and that's not a bad thing.
Still, much of the Cardinal fan base will go into the game thinking their team will get humiliated on national TV and never recover. Others fear the Cards' will take a horrific physical beating from the bigger, stronger Alabama defenders.
That's a worst-case scenario that it possible, certainly, but I just don't think it's likely. The Cards will not go into the game in Orlando without weapons. If their defense won't give up too much to the 'Bama offense and cover-boy quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, we might see a pretty good season-opening college football game.
If UofL can make it respectable against a team that's already being given the national title by some preseason magazines, the Cards will be ranked somewhere in the Top 25. At the least, playing Alabama will reveal their strengths and weaknesses in a way that an opener against Indiana State or Eastern Kentucky wouldn't.
Most of the preseason predictions I've heard are putting the Cards at 6-6 or 7-5, but I think they have a chance of being better. After Alabama, the best two teams on the Cards' schedule, as usual, figure to be Florida State and Clemson.
The Seminoles will come to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Sept. 29 for a game that will be as closely watched in Bowling Green, Ky., as it is in Tallahassee and Louisville. That's because Willie Taggart, who replaced Jimbo Fisher as the Seminoles' head coach, and Petrino both are former head coaches at Western Kentucky University.
The Cards will have to play Clemson in “Death Valley,” but at least the game will be played on Nov. 3 instead of the first month of the season. That figures to help UofL, provided the Cards have steadily improved to that point.
The last time I checked, there were 73 days and change until UofL and Alabama kick it off. That's a lot of time for the newspaper columnists and radio talk-show hosts to examine the possibilities from every conceivable angle.
But put me down on the side of looking forward to it instead of dreading it. If UofL is to be a perennial Top 25 program, it needs to test itself against the best whenever the opportunity arises.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.
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