Welcome to the Big East -- Louisville Cardinals

On November 4, 2003, the depleted Big East Football Conference extended membership invitations to Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida of Conference USA. And thus the New Big East was born. After two years of jockeying, the New Big East prepares to take the field this fall.


On November 4, 2003 – four months after the Atlantic Coast Conference completed its initial raid of the Big East (and less than three weeks after the final raid) – the depleted Big East Football Conference extended membership invitations to Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida of Conference USA.  And thus the New Big East was born.  Gone were powerhouses Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC.  Following them were the ethically-challenged Judasuits of Boston College.  Gone too is Temple, banished from the conference after never being fully welcomed.  Already onboard is upstart Connecticut, arriving a year yearly due to the raid and intent upon repeating in football what it has accomplished in basketball.  After two years of jockeying, the New Big East prepares to take the field this fall.  This article, the first of a three-part series looking at the new members of the Big East Football Conference, focuses on the Louisville Cardinals, already anointed as the team to beat in the New Big East. 


The University of Louisville was founded as Jefferson Seminary in 1798 in the heart of Louisville, Kentucky.  The Louisville Medical Institute occupied the site in 1833, followed by the Louisville Collegiate Institute in 1837.  The colleges were combined into the municipal University of Louisville in 1846.  The University expanded substantially in the first half of the 20th Century.  Desegregation occurred in 1950.  In 1970, the University joined the state university system.  Expansion continued as more colleges were added.  The University of Louisville presently has an enrollment of over 22,000 students.  Louisville athletics first reached the national stage in the late 1970's after former John Wooden assistant Denny Crum built the Cardinals basketball program into a national powerhouse, routinely visiting the Final Four and winning two national championships.  The football program has traditionally been the lesser sibling. 


Louisville's history has many similarities to that of Rutgers.  However, Louisville football got off to a much later start, not playing its first game until 1912, only five years after the reopening of the liberal arts college in 1907.  The Cardinals beat Transylvania 32-0 in that first game as the Vampires not surprisingly struggled on a sunny day.  Throughout much of its history, Louisville played a small-time schedule, consisting of smaller regional state universities and private schools, as did Rutgers.  In fact, Louisville was not a member of the NCAA as late the 1950s.  Louisville joined the Missouri Valley Conference in 1963.  The Cardinals left the conference in 1975 as Division I football divided into two divisions and the Missouri Valley Conference drifted towards Division I-AA.  Louisville upgraded its schedule but continued to play many Division I-AA teams.  In 1996, Louisville joined Conference USA. 


Conference USA was formed in 1996 from a collection of mid-south independents, many of who participated in the old Metro basketball conference.  Initial members included Cincinnati, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, and Tulane.  East Carolina joined in 1997.  Army joined in 1998.  Alabama-Birmingham joined in 1999.  Texas Christian joined in 2001.  South Florida joined in 2003.  In 2003, Army announced plans to leave after the 2004 season and return to independent status.  Army has since been joined in the ranks of the departed by Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida – who left for the Big East Conference – and Texas Christian, who left for the Mountain West Conference.   C-USA has added Central Florida, Marshall, Rice, Southern Methodist, Tulsa, and Texas-El Paso and split into two divisions. 

Louisville started slowly in C-USA but eventually emerged as one of the dominant programs: 

  • Louisville finished in a three-way tie for third among six teams in the inaugural season with a 2-3 record. 
  • Louisville finished DFL in 1997, winless in six games in a seven-team league. 
  • Louisville bounced back with a 4-2 record in 1998, third among eight teams.
  • Louisville finished in a four-way tie for second (among nine teams) in 1999 with a 4-2 record. 
  • Louisville won the C-USA title in 2000 with a 6-1 record.
  • Louisville repeated as C-USA champs with another 6-1 record in 2001 in the expanded ten-team league. 
  • Louisville finished in a two-way tie for third in 2002 with a 5-3 record. 
  • Louisville finished in a three-way tie for third (among eleven teams) in 2003 with another 5-3 record. 
  • Louisville won the C-USA title for the third time in five years with an 8-0 record.


Louisville has played in twelve bowl games, including one in each of the past seven years:

  • In 1957 (January 1, 1958 actually), the Cardinals defeated Drake 34-20 in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
  • In 1970, the Cardinals tied Long Beach State 24-24 in the Pasadena Bowl in Pasadena, California. 
  • In 1977, Louisiana Tech defeated Louisville 24-14 in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana. 
  • In 1990 (January 1, 1991 actually), the Cardinals destroyed Alabama 34-7 in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona. 
  • In 1993, the Cardinals defeated Michigan State 18-7 in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee. 
  • In 1998, Marshall blitzed Louisville 48-29 in the Motor City Bowl in Pontiac, Michigan. 
  • In 1999, Boise State edged Louisville 34-31 in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho. 
  • In 2000, Colorado State beat Louisville 22-17 in the Liberty Bowl. 
  • In 2001, the Cardinals defeated Brigham Young 28-10 in the Liberty Bowl. 
  • In 2002, Marshall whipped Louisville 38-15 in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. 
  • In 2003, Miami of Ohio demolished Louisville 49-28 in the GMAC Bowl. 
  • In 2004, Louisville won a 44-40 thriller against Boise State in the Liberty Bowl. 


Well-known coaches who have practiced their craft at Louisville include:

  • Lee Corso.  Yo.  The know-nothing from ESPN's college football studio show actually knew something back in the day, as a football coach.  Lee coached the Cardinals from 1969 to 1972 in his first head coaching stint.  He owns the best winning percentage of any coach in Louisville history, 0.690 (28-11-3).  The Cardinals won two Missouri Valley Conference titles and one bowl game under Corso's leadership.  Lee left Louisville for the head coaching job at Indiana. 


  • Howard Schnellenberger.  Fresh off a national championship at the University of Miami in 1983, Howard shocked the college football world when he left Coral Gables to coach the Washington Federals of the USFL, who were scheduled to relocate to Miami.  But the Federal folded before Schnellenberger ever coached a game.  After a year out of football, Howard returned to his native Louisville to take command of the dormant Cardinal program.  In his sixth season, the Cardinals finished 10-1-1 and won a New Years Day bowl game.  Howard left Louisville in 1995 for an opportunity to rebuild the slumbering Oklahoma program.  Schnellenberger had a 54-56-2 record at Louisville (0.491) with two bowl appearances. 


  • John L. Smith.  Louisville cratered to a 1-10 record just three years after Schnellenberger's departure, which precipitated the dismissal of his successor.  Smith came to Louisville in 1998 after a three-year stint at Utah State, during which he won two consecutive Big West championships.  Louisville earned a bowl birth in each of its five seasons under Smith.  John L. compiled a 41-21 (0.661) record before accepted the Michigan State job, leaving Cardinals fans embittered. 


    Source:  2004 Louisville Football Media Guide


  • Bobby Petrino.  Smith's offensive coordinator and QB coach at Louisville in 1998, Petrino replaced Smith four years later in 2003.  In between, Bobby spent three years as the QB coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and one year as the offensive coordinator at Auburn.  Petrino's tenure at Louisville has been a turbulent one.  Auburn made an unethical run at Petrino after the 2003 season, meeting with Petrino without the knowledge or permission of the Louisville athletic department.  After signing a lucrative contract extension last year after one of the two best seasons in Cardinal history, Petrino inexplicably then dallied with Louisiana State prior to the Cardinal's bowl game.  He eventually spurned LSU but his commitment to Louisville is suspect.  And Cardinals fans are jaded.


            Source:  2004 Louisville Football Media Guide



For a school that lacks a tradition of big time football, Louisville has had more than its share of big time players:

  • QB Johnny Unitas played between 1951 and 1955.  He played as a freshman since Louisville was not yet a member of the NCAA.  He was the best player on several bad teams.  Louisville had a combined record of only 12-22 with the young master at QB.  The Cardinals best record was 5-4 in 1951, while Unitas was a freshman.  The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Johnny in the 9th round but promptly cut him.  The Baltimore Colts plucked him from obscurity.  Eighteen season, two NFL championships, a third NFL Championship appearance, one Super Bowl championship, a second Super Bowl appearance, three Player of the Year honors, six All-Pro honors, and 10 Pro Bowls later, Unitas retired and subsequently entered the NFL Hall of Fame 1979 as arguably the best QB ever. 


  • TB Lenny Lyles played between 1954 and 1957.  In 1957, he became Louisville's first 1000-yard rusher while leading the Cardinals to their first bowl game.  Louisville had a combined record of 25-12 during Lyle's career.  The Baltimore Colts drafted Lyle in the 1st round and converted him to CB.  Lenny played professionally for eleven seasons, ten with Unitas and the Colts.  He won two NFL Championships and appeared in a third, plus Super Bowl III. 


  • RB Ernie Green played between 1958 and 1961.  Green twice led the Cardinals in rushing.  Louisville had a combined record of 23-13 during Green's career.  Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 14th round, Green was acquired by the Cleveland Browns, where he served as the FB in front of the great Jim Brown.  He played for six seasons, winning one NFL championship and earning two Pro Bowl appearances. 


  • LB Doug Buffone played between 1962 and 1965.  He was the first Cardinal to lead the team in tackles for three consecutive years.  Louisville had a combined record of 25-12 during Buffone's career.  The Chicago Bears drafted Buffone in the 4th round.  Doug played for 15 season (eight as defensive captain) and played more games than any other Bear. 


  • LB Tom Jackson played between 1970 and 1972.  He was the Cardinals leading tackler each year and twice earned the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year honors.  Louisville had a combined record of 23-7-2 during Jackson's career.  The Denver Broncos drafted Jackson in the 4th round.  Tom played 14 years for the Broncos.  He played in two Super Bowl and three Pro Bowls and twice earned All-Pro honors.  Jackson has been a mainstay on ESPN's NFL studio show.  


  • DB Dwayne Woodruff played between 1976 and 1978.  Louisville had a combined record of 19-14-1 during Woodruff's career.  He played in only the third bowl game in Louisville history in 1977.  The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Woodruff in the 6th round.  He played 13 years for the Steelers and was member of the Steelers' last Super Bowl championship team as a rookie. 


  • LB Otis Wilson played between 1977 and 1979.  Otis earned All-American honors in 1979.  Louisville had a combined record of 18-14-2 during Wilson's career.  The Chicago Bears drafted Wilson in the 1st round and Otis was a key member of Buddy Ryan's fearsome 46 defense.  Wilson earned his only Pro Bowl berth in the Bears Super Bowl championship season.  


  • OT Joe Jacoby played between 1978 and 1980.  Louisville had a combined record of 16-16-1 during Jacoby's career.  Signed as a rookie free agent by the Washington Redskins, Jacoby played 12 years.  He won three Super Bowls as a member of the famed "Hogs" and earned four Pro Bowl appearances. 


  • CB Frank Minniefield walked on to the Cardinals and played between 1979 and 1982.  Louisville had a combined record of 19-24-1 during Minniefield's career.  Minniefield played two seasons for the Chicago Blitz of the USFL.  Signed by the Cleveland Browns as a free agent, Frank played nine years in the NFL.  He earned four Pro Bowl appearances.  He was also one of the founders of Cleveland's notorious Dawg Pound. 


  • OT Bruce Armstrong played between 1983 and 1986.  He began his career as a TE and was moved to OT as a junior.  Louisville had a combined record of 10-34 during Armstrong's career.  The New England Patriots drafted Armstrong in the first round.  Bruce played 15 years for New England and earned seven Pro Bowl appearances. 


  • DT Ted Washington played between 1987 and 1990.  He was a key member of arguably the best Louisville team that made the Cardinals only major New Years Day bowl appearance after the 1990 season.  Louisville had a combined record of 27-16-2 during Washington's career.  The San Francisco 49ers drafted Washington in the 1st round.  He has played for six teams in a 14-year NFL career.  He earned four Pro Bowl nods and won a Super Bowl with New England in 2003. 


  • CB Ray Buchanan played between 1989 and 1992.  Ray twice earned All-American honors for the Cardinals and played on possibly Louisville's greatest team in 1990.  Louisville had a combined record of 23-21-1 during Buchanan's career.  The Indianapolis Colts drafted Buchanan in the 3rd round.  Ray has played four year in Indianapolis, seven years in Atlanta, and one year (last year) in Oakland.  He appeared in one Super Bowl and one Pro Bowl. 


  • QB Chris Redman played between 1996 and 1999.  He is one of only three Division I QBs to throw for more than 12,000 career passing yards.  Louisville had a combined record of 20-26 during Redman's career.  The Baltimore Ravens drafted Redman in the 3rd round; he is presently their starting QB. 


From 1923 to 1956, Louisville played it football games at Parkway Field, home of the minor league baseball Louisville Colonels.  In 1957, the Cardinals moved to the 33,500-seat Fairgrounds Stadium (later renamed Cardinals Stadium in 1982) at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. 


            Source:  2004 Louisville Football Media Guide


In 1998, Louisville moved into a brand new on-campus facility – $63 million Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium, which seats 42,000.  Papa Johns can be expanded to an ultimate capacity of 80,000. 


            Source:  2004 Louisville Football Media Guide      



Also like Rutgers, Louisville has no longstanding traditional rivalry.  Rutgers has lacked such a rivalry since the Scarlet Knights and Princeton went their separate ways in the Division I schism in the mid-70s.  While Rutgers has three opponents it has played over seventy times and another four it has played over forty times, Louisville has played only one opponent more than forty times – the University of Cincinnati.  The Cardinals and Bearcats have played 45 times, including every year (except 1993-1995) since 1966 when they were members of the Missouri Valley Conference.  The two schools share a similar culture as metropolitan state universities overshadowed by The State U.  Louisville has an 18-26-1 record against Cincinnati.  The annual game is played for the Keg of Nails Trophy.  Cincinnati enables Louisville to enter the Big East with an established rival. 


                                    Source:  2004 Louisville Football Media Guide



Louisville has played Memphis 40 times since 1948, missing only five years since 1961.  The Cardinals have a 21-19 record against the Tigers.  I would expect Louisville to maintain its rivalry with Memphis in annual non-conference games. 

Louisville has played intra-state rivals Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky 56 times.  Louisville owns a 19-12 record against the Hilltoppers.  The teams played twelve consecutive years between 1922 and 1933 and then intermittently since then, including seven times in the 80s.  The Cardinals have a 16-8-1 record against the Colonels.  The rivalry essentially died in 1961 as the teams have played only twice since. 

Louisville has played State U, the University of Kentucky, only 17 times in its 93-year history.  However, the Cardinals have developed a recent rivalry with their in-state brethren, playing every year since 1994 for the Governor's Cup.  Louisville has a 7-10 record against the Wildcats, but is 7-4 since the series became an annual affair. 


            Source:  2004 Louisville Football Media Guide    



Louisville is winless in four games against the Scarlet Knights, occasions when weak Cardinal teams faced relatively strong Rutgers teams:

  • Louisville (5-6) decisively lost 34-0 at Rutgers Stadium in early November of Rutgers' undefeated season of 1976.
  • In 1979, Louisville (4-6-1) lost 31-7 at Fairgrounds Stadium in the season finale for an 8-3 Scarlet Knight team.
  • In 1984, Louisville (2-9) lost 38-21 at Rutgers Stadium in mid-October of a 7-3 season for Rutgers. 
  • In 1986, Louisville (3-8) was dismantled 41-0 at Cardinals Stadium in early November of a 5-5-1 season for Rutgers. 


2000 (9-3)

2001 (11-2)

2002 (7-6)

2003 (9-4)

2004 (11-1)


40-34 OT

New Mexico State




@ Kentucky






@ Kentucky


@ Duke


@ Syracuse


@ Army


@ Florida State


Western Carolina


@ Colorado State


Texas-El Paso


@ North Carolina




@ Illinois


@ Army




East Carolina


@ Ala-Birmingham




Florida State

26-20 OT

@ South Florida

28-31 2OT

@ Miami




Colorado State


@ Memphis




South Florida


East Carolina


Southern Miss


Texas Christian




@ Memphis




@ Cincinnati


East Carolina


@ East Carolina


Texas Christian


@ Southern Miss


@ Tulane




@ Texas Christian


@ Houston






@ Southern Miss

20-17 OT





@ Houston


@ East Carolina






@ Tulane


@ Texas Christian


@ Houston


@ Cincinnati


Liberty Bowl,

Colorado St


Liberty Bowl,

Brigham Young, 28-10





Miami of Ohio


Liberty Bowl

Boise State



Louisville's schedule and record over the past five years is summarized below: 

Coming Next:  Welcome to the Big East -- Cincinnati.  In the second of a three-part series, I'll take a look at a new addition to the Big East Football Conference. 

Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the upcoming football season with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board. 

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