Loaded team, light schedule could create cruel dilemma for Charlie Strong at Louisville

Pat Forde
Yahoo! Sports
Loaded team, light schedule could create cruel dilemma for Charlie Strong at Louisville
Loaded team, light schedule could create cruel dilemma for Charlie Strong at Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – When the 49-7 rout of Ohio was over, Teddy Bridgewater's day finally got strenuous.

The Louisville quarterback tested his vertical leap, jumping up to sit on top of the wall at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium to commune with the student section. "Just trying to show my appreciation to the students," Bridgewater said.

He worked on conditioning, jogging around the stadium to slap hands with fans crowding the front row.

Then he did some lifting. I lost track of the number of little kids he picked up – most of them wearing red No. 5 jerseys – and posed for pictures with.

"I just love being that role model," said Teddy Ballgame, a comment that differentiates him from at least one other prominent college quarterback. Guess which one.

[Watch: Johnny Manziel's antics overshadow win]

Before that postgame outreach workout, the day had been a Sunday stroll for Bridgewater. He completed his first nine passes, two of them for touchdowns, and the first incompletion was courtesy of a drop. With 14 National Football League scouts in attendance, the most serious threat to JaDeveon Clowney's status as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft finished 23 of 28 for 355 yards and five TDs, and his one interception was the result of a busted route by Devante Parker.

One former NFL executive in attendance raved about Bridgewater's demeanor and leadership – both in-game and on practice video he had seen.

"He's definitely the best quarterback coming out," the former exec told Yahoo Sports.

But he's not a one-man phenomenon. Armed with a deep receiving corps, Bridgewater is nearly overloaded with options – eight Louisville players caught passes and four caught touchdowns Sunday. Keeping them all happy is a good problem to have.

"I'm like a kid in the candy store," he said. "I can't decide which flavor of candy I want."

But we all know a straight candy diet isn't good for you. And the Louisville schedule is basically three months of Skittles.

This was a completely dominant performance by Bridgewater and by the ninth-ranked Cardinals as a whole. Coming on a Sunday when Louisville had the national stage to itself, it should help the quarterback in the Heisman Trophy race and should help the team in the polls. If they get much credit for it.

The opponent was Ohio, which returned its quarterback, leading rusher, leading receiver and leading tackler from a team that beat Penn State and eight other teams in 2012. But that's still different from Ohio State, or any other name-brand program.

Of the 11 opponents to come, approximately two looked decent this opening weekend: Cincinnati and Central Florida. South Florida and Connecticut suffered catastrophically bad losses against FCS opponents. Kentucky was beaten handily by Western Kentucky. What already shaped up as puny strength of schedule ratings now looks like it will be even worse.

[Related: Eastern Washington QB becomes a nightmare for Oregon State]

Thus coach Charlie Strong figures to be left with some difficult decisions to make in mismatch games – starting Saturday against FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky. Pour on the points to impress the voters? Keep Bridgewater in the game to pile up Heisman-friendly stats? Or go by the unwritten coaches code that says to pull the starters and strip down the offense late, with style points kept to a minimum?

With the specter of little competition to come, outright domination is probably Louisville's only chance of playing its way into the national championship debate or earning Bridgewater the first Heisman in school history.

Against Ohio, Strong benched Bridgewater and many other starters with the score 42-0 in the third quarter. That still didn't prevent the star QB from taking a couple hits in his final possessions – one a sack and the other on an option that he audibled into. (The audible likely horrified the NFL personnel on hand, but Bridgewater believes it set up his final touchdown pass on the next play.)

Afterward, the Bobcats gave Louisville their endorsement as an elite team.

"I think it's the best team we've played since I've been at Ohio," said coach Frank Solich, now in his ninth year at the school. "That includes Ohio State when they were ranked."

[Watch: Who are the top Heisman contenders?]

The Bobcats played the Buckeyes in 2008 and in 2010. Ohio State was ranked third the first time and second the next meeting. Those are rankings Louisville aspires to – but the schedule may create a ceiling that prevents them from getting there.

Unless the Cardinals win every game 49-7. Maybe then they will be viewed differently.

But to even attempt such a thing, they likely would need to run up the score a few times. Which would be out of character for Strong.

He may have coached under Steve Spurrier at Florida in the '90s, but that doesn't mean he shares the same zest for rub-it-in late touchdowns. Then again, he's never had this much to play for.

How Charlie Strong handles his star quarterback and other key starters in second-half beatdowns will be worth watching as this season unfolds. Some weeks, it might even be the hardest part of the coach's job.

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