In a comparison, Louisville and Marshall seemed to be neck-and-neck coming into the season. Both schools had visions of somehow making a name for themselves in the national spotlight of the Bowl Championship Series.
The reason; well that is clear-cut. It was to be a season hinging on the arms of Heisman Trophy Candidates Dave Ragone and Byron Leftwich. For Marshall fans it is visible how the year would go, as the Thundering Herd fell to Virginia Tech and Akron, but eventually managed to reclaim some respect with the latest ranking of No. 24 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. Marshall's right-armed gun-slinger dazzled fans all year with his uncanny ability to deliver in the clutch and his even more inspiring determination to play through pain.
Louisville's season would have similar ups-and-downs, but with a little more magnitude. After beginning the year 2-2, the Cardinals were in search of something to salvage the slow start. That something came the next week as they would knock off the then No. 4-ranked Florida State Seminoles in a 26-20 overtime victory on a rain-soaked field in Louisville.
However, the upset would be short-lived as the Cardinals would drop three more games during the course of the season to finish at 7-5.
And what about Ragone?
Well, with no pun intended, his quest for the Heisman began to fall like the New York Stock Exchange. While it is true that Ragone (6-4, 255) is still considered one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, his inconsistency has hurt Louisville in several occasions throughout the year.
On the season, the senior is 217-of-396 for 2,687 yards and 23 touchdowns, but his ten interceptions and 54.8 completion percentage stick out. One answer to the troubles this season could be that his offensive line has allowed him to be sacked 43 times. He has been credited for 122 carries for 217 yards.
On the other hand, in a win against East Carolina, he threw for 352 yards and five touchdowns on 23-of-32 passing. In Louisville's five losses, Ragone's completion percentage is 45.9 percent (80-of-174), while in the seven wins it is 61.7 (137-of-222). Despite the unpredictability, his yearly totals were enough to allow him to receive his third consecutive Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year Award.
Damien Dorsey (5-7, 172) has been the main recipient of Ragone's passes this year as he has caught 52 balls for 753 yards and seven touchdowns. The first-team all-conference performer is also a threat returning punts as his 15.4 average return yardage ranks him No. 9 in the nation.
Joshua Tinch (6-3, 212) is second on the team with 31 receptions for 406 yards and four scores. Tinch, who was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team, will also be playing basketball for Rick Pitino's squad following the conclusion of the season. He had a career night against Florida State in which he had four catches for 93 yards and a score.
Dontay Spillman, who was the team's leading receiver early in the year with 362 yards and two touchdowns, was suspended for the Florida State game on a violation of team rules. He was later dismissed from the team.
Louisville also took a blow during the Memphis game, when three-time first-team all-conference tight end Ronnie Ghent suffered a season-ending knee injury. Ghent, who had 25 catches and 206 yards in six games this season, is replaced by Richard Owens (6-4, 268). On the year, Owens has 143 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Henry Miller (6-0, 223) is the leading rusher for the Cardinals with 595 yards and 12 touchdowns. Miller, who scored the game-winning touchdown against Florida State, has been hampered by ankle injuries all season. Therefore, two other Louisville players have been forced to contribute. T.J. Patterson (6-0, 228) has stepped in at times and is second on the team with 310 yards and two scores. Lionel Gates (6-0, 224) has added 198 yards and one touchdown. Offensively, Louisville averages 228.3 yards per game through the air (No. 51 in the nation) and 111.2 yards on the ground (No. 101), with an average of 29.9 points per game (No. 40).
The big name on the defensive side of the ball for Louisville is Dewayne White (6-3, 280). The junior defensive end was a third-team all-american last season, and was named to nearly every first-team all-american team prior to the start of the year. On the season, White has a total of 57 tackles (15.5 for loss and 9.5 sacks).
The most impressive thing about White is what he has overcome in his life to be nominated for the Football Writers Association Courage Award. When he was two months old his father died and at age eight his stepfather was paralyzed after being shot. Two months later, his house in Marbury, Ala., burned down.
After getting back on their feet again, his family encountered another house fire when White was 11. To add to that, three years later his mother was diagnosed with bone cancer and she passed away when he was 16. During his high school days, White worked on farms and at a fast food restaurant to make ends meet.
Helping White on the line has been Devon Thomas (6-1, 261). The senior has 56 tackles and 11.5 for loss, with seven sacks.
Linebackers Rod Day (6-1, 213) and Chad Lee (6-2, 260) have become the leaders in the middle this year. Day, a member of the Conference USA Second-Team, is number two on the team with 101 tackles. Lee has 90 stops and 4.5 tackles for loss. Senior Michael Brown (5-10, 220) has added 55 tackles.
The secondary is perhaps the most skilled group for the Cardinals. Senior safety Curry Burns (6-1, 223) leads the team with 111 tackles and also has two interceptions and seven pass break-ups. Anthony Floyd (5-10, 206), who was named second-team all-conference, is the top player in the defensive backfield. The senior has 91 tackles and one interception. His interception total needs not be taken forgranted although, because teams tend to stay clear of his side. During his sophomore year, Floyd led the nation with 10 interceptions and was named to the Walter Camp First-Team All-American squad. He had four interceptions last year and entered this season ranked top five nationally at free safety.
Josh Minkins (5-10, 175) starts at corner and he has 57 stops and two interceptions. Larino Gallishaw (5-11, 205) starts at the other corner and has 37 tackles and a team-high 14 pass break-ups.
As a defensive unit, Louisville allows 114.2 yards on the ground per game (No. 23 in the nation) and 203.4 yards through the air (No. 47), with an average of 23.4 points allowed per game (No. 42).
Matt's Fearless Prediction