Last year, the Mountaineers parlayed a Big East championship and BCS victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl into a preseason Top 5 ranking this season. The Cardinals hope to do something similar.
Fifth-ranked Louisville will make their ninth straight bowl appearance Jan. 2 against ACC champion Wake Forest in the FedEx Orange Bowl and the Cardinals plan to use the game as a springboard for bigger things in 2007, especially with junior quarterback Brian Brohm expected to return for his senior season.
Besides Brohm, the Cardinals could return upwards of 16 starters, including stars Harry Douglas, Mario Urrutia, Michael Bush and Eric Wood on offense, Malik Jackson, Deantwan Whitehead and Rod Council on defense, and All-America kicker Art Carmody.
"I'll be very excited about our team coming back," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "We'll lose some good players, but we have the depth to replace them. We want to win the bowl game for next year's preseason rankings. We have a good team coming back and we all know the early rankings have a big effect on the latter part of the season if you continue to win."
Louisville entered the 2006 season with a No. 13 national ranking after a 9-3 2005 campaign that ended with a 35-24 loss to Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. The Cards hope that their Big East title, combined with a win over Wake Forest next month will propel them to a more lofty poll position to start next season.
could propel Louisville to a top 5
preseason ranking in 2007.
"This game has huge implications on our final ranking and it would definitely help out with our preseason ranking next year," Brohm said. "Hopefully we can get us a nice BCS bowl win in the Orange Bowl to start our run for a national championship next season."
The Cardinals had themselves in position this season for a shot at the BCS title after moving up to #3 in the polls following their Nov. 2 44-34 win over then fifth-ranked West Virginia. But a heartbreaking loss to Rutgers the following week ended Louisville's title hopes. "After the Rutgers game we felt like we had to catch a couple of breaks to get into the BCS and we caught them," sophomore center Eric Wood said.
With a better starting point next season, the Cards road to the BCS title game would be a little easier to navigate, though a tough road slate that includes stops at Kentucky, South Florida and West Virginia will provide stern challenges.
"To beat the #15 team and the ACC champion in the Orange Bowl would be big for us this year and for the future," Wood said. "With the returning players we have, if we win this BCS bowl game we should remain in the Top 5 to start next season. If you can start in the Top 5 it puts you in a way better position."
Louisville's designs for the Orange Bowl don't just pertain to the future. This is an important game for the Cardinals to finish off an impressive 2006 season – a season that would rank as the best in school history with a BCS bowl win.
"Our goal was to get to the BCS," Wood said. "We fell short of the BCS title game but that doesn't matter. We ended the (regular season) ranked #6 in the country and we could finish in the Top 5 or possibly in the Top 3 in the country. We've preached finish all season and we're not going to stop now. To finish out this season is going to mean a lot for the program and for our fans."