Louisville wins game, loses aura

Louisville was looking much better before anyone saw it. It was better as fiction than fact. And I find myself wondering what Condoleezza Rice thinks.

I'll get back to that later.

But Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals had their showcase moment Thursday night on national TV against a decent opponent, Rutgers. For the most part, Louisville has lived on highlights shows. That's all anyone has seen of the Cardinals.

It was Bridgewater throwing touchdown passes and points piling up. But the truth is that there is too much information, there are too many networks, for a myth to survive. The Louisville myth died Thursday night, though the Cardinals won 24-10.

"I believe we got our message through,'' Bridgewater said. "(But) we left about 17 points on the field. We should've easily put up 40 points tonight.''

This myth required those 40 points, and a bunch of touchdown passes from Bridgewater. The problem is that they have to live up to the highlights shows, much like Jadeveon Clowney had to live up to The Hit.

It's not easy to live up to your best moment. But in Louisville's case, it was crucial. Alabama can get away with a bad moment because it's on TV all the time, and winning championships. So it's real.

Louisville had snuck in the door of the national championship discussion from the start, based on Bridgewater's status as a potential top pick in the NFL draft, and on the Cardinals' bowl win last year over Florida. It is ranked No. 8 and undefeated against a bunch of nobodies.

So they had been granted a spot in the discussion based on hot air. That's what this is all about, whittling away to find out who will play the SEC champ for the national title.

Plan A is the Oregon-Stanford winner. But if that winner loses some other game, then the Clemson-Florida State winner, Plan B, moves up. Ohio State is Plan C. And the point of Thursday was to see if Louisville could be a decent Plan D.

I thought it was. I know now it isn't.

I've had the chance to travel around the country to see most of these teams up close. Last week: Ohio State. And I'm taken by the idea that next season, when the College Football Playoff committee starts to select the four-team tournament, its real goal should be something much simpler than people think.

For all the complaints about Rice being on the committee next season, a poorly kept secret, she will be just as good, if not better, than anyone else. Sure, we've heard media analysts and ex-coaches complain that she's a woman who has never put her fist in the dirt in a football game.

The smartest person in the room -- Rice -- also knows when it's best not to overthink things. We don't need someone breaking down film, though there's no reason to think she can't.

But if anyone is deciding who should play in the title game by film that shows whether Ohio State or Clemson has the left tackle with more sound technique, then they will be ruining college football.

For the most part, the goal of the committee should be to get a grasp of the incredibly obvious. That's all.

Football isn't exactly the greatest test of intelligence in the world. But picking these teams, for the most part, will be obvious and clear, as long as the committee lets it.

Looking at this year, it's clear that Louisville isn't going to get enough done to deserve to be in the title game. It might go undefeated, but it isn't going to beat any good teams, and you don't have to break down film to know that it isn't as good as Alabama, Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State, Clemson or Georgia. And a few others.

"We came away with a victory and it was a good game,'' Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "Rutgers played well also. If you're sitting there with someone watching the game, you're probably saying, `This is a really good football game.' ''

Actually, you were becoming desperate to see the highlights version of Bridgewater.

Rutgers' most experienced cornerback is a second-year player who played receiver all last year, until the bowl game. So Louisville receivers were running free the whole game, 15-20 yards downfield. Damian Copeland, who had 115 yards in receptions, told me he went into the game saying there was no way was he going to let a freshman stick with him.

For some reason, Louisville's offensive play calling was so overly conservative that it wasn't taking enough advantage of Bridgewater, or of Rutgers' weakness. He could have been building up big numbers.

He needed them. Louisville needed those 40 points.

When Bridgewater missed Copeland, who was wide open at the goal line, that became a defining moment. He floated a few passes, threw one awful interception. He fumbled once. If it were just in highlights, you'd have seen two touchdowns and 310 yards.

Now, he'll be fine with the NFL draft. There were a few dozen scouts at the game, and he's strong and moves well, and is usually accurate. Plus, too many NFL teams need quarterbacks. He'll still be an early first-round pick.

And Louisville is still a fine team.

But the Heisman Trophy is gone now for Bridgewater, and so is the BCS title game for Louisville.

The showcase showed too much. Believe me: It didn't take a breakdown of technique or a fist in the dirt to see it.