- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
The Best Case/Worst Case series moves along to Louisville, which had its best case in 2006 and its worst case, um, ever since. Here are the extreme possibilities for the Cardinals.
Steve Kragthorpe finally has his guys and his coaches in place, and it's time to show what he can really do as a head coach with a Tulsa-esque turnaround season.
The Cardinals' offense starts to hum along like the old days, with Victor Anderson leading the Big East in rushing and quarterbacks Justin Burke and Adam Froman guiding the team down the field with a short but precise passing game. Scott Long is healthy, making a big difference for the receiving corps, and Louisville has one of those seasons where all the breaks and turnovers go their way.
After an easy opening win over Indiana State, the Cards go to Kentucky and end a two-year losing streak to their rivals, bringing a little excitement back to their fans. A loss at Utah follows, but then the team rebounds to upset Pitt at home on a Friday night and knock off old nemesis Southern Miss on a game-winning trick play.
The first Big East road game sees Louisville get revenge on Connecticut on two kick return touchdowns by Trent Guy. The Cards seesaw a bit after that, losing at Cincinnati, at West Virginia and at South Florida, but taking care of business at home against Arkansas State and -- finally -- Syracuse to secure bowl eligibility.
Rutgers comes into the season finale at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium with an 10-0 record and top-5 ranking. Turning the tables on 2006, Louisville roars back from an early deficit and wins on a last-second field goal to spoil the Scarlet Knights' championship hopes. The Cards happily march off to the St. Petersburg Bowl, Kragthorpe's popularity soars and season tickets for the expanded stadium in 2010 become a hot commodity.
Kragthorpe still doesn't have enough talent or depth to get the ship turned around.
The offensive line is a mess and the quarterbacks can't stretch the field with deep throws, allowing defenses to stack the box and stuff the running game. Long can't shake the injury bug, and the thin defensive line gets mauled in the trenches. The kicking game remains appalling.
The Cardinals beat Indiana State, but the game is still close in the fourth quarter, causing all kinds of consternation. Then the shoe really drops.
In the worst two-month stretch in recent program history, Louisville loses to Kentucky, Utah, Pitt, Southern Miss, UConn and Cincinnati, falling to 1-6. The stands are empty, but the radio talk shows and message boards spew constant venom at Kragthorpe, who looks like he'd rather be anywhere else.
Rallying behind their embattled coach, the Cards hold off Arkansas State at home. But that's the last win of the season, as the team finishes 2-10 and 0-7 in the Big East. Kragthorpe resigns in mid-November. Athletic director Tom Jurich, fuming at how fans treated his coach, leaves for another job. The future of the program hovers in doubt.
Arkansas wins the SEC, upsetting Florida in the league title game, and Bobby Petrino is named national coach of the year.