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Billy Reed: Words come up short when it comes to superlatives for Louisville-Clemson grid showdown

Here we are, mere hours away from the Louisville football team’s visit to Clemson, and I have a serious problem. I used up almost all my adjectives and superlatives on the Cards’ historic 63-20 humiliation of Florida State.

I ordered a new batch from the U.S. Postal Service, but they won’t be here until Monday, the same day The Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader will be coming out with their game stories. That’s less acceptable for a newspaper than it is for a delivery service.

I should have known better. I should have used UPS. Then I’d be sitting here with a bag full of “greats” and “fantastics” and “unbelievables.” Instead, I’ll just have to make do with what I have. The bag is almost empty, but there are probably a few superlatives stuck in the bottom.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is looking for his second top five win in three weeks Saturday against Clemson (UofL Athletics Photo)

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is looking for his second top five win in three weeks Saturday against Clemson (UofL Athletics Photo)

How big is this game? Well, the ESPN College GameDay crew will be there. This is heady stuff for the Cards. Going into the season, U of L had never been on the program. Now they will have been on twice in three weeks.

How do you evaluate the importance of that? Wait a minute. I’ve rooted around in my near-empty bag and found a “stupendous.” I’m also sure there’s an “awesome” or two in there if I can just dig them out.

The game Saturday night will be witnessed by a full house of raving maniacs in Clemson’s “Death Valley” and probably the biggest TV audience of the college football season.

The winner will have as clear a path to the national championship as any team not named Alabama.

For you historians, the Tigers’ only national championship came in 1981, when Danny Ford was the coach and William “The Refrigerator” Perry was its best-known player.

Louisville, of course, has never been seriously in the hunt for a national football title. Frankly, the idea never crossed anybody’s mind until Howard Schnellenberger came along in 1984 and made what seemed to be an outrageous prediction: “Louisville is on a collision course with the national championship; the only variable is time.”

At the time, local pundits wanted to check Howard’s pipe for controlled substances. But doggone if he wasn’t a prophet. The only question is whether the time is now.

If I hadn’t depleted my supply of adjectives and superlatives, this would be a good place to pen a Valentine to Lamar Jackson, the wondrous (I knew I still had one of those in my bag) sophomore U of L quarterback who’s now odds-on to win the Heisman Trophy.

The player he replaced as No. 1 on that list also happens to be the quarterback who will lead Clemson against the Cards. Senior DeShaun Watson has done nothing wrong in what so far is an unbeaten season.

It’s just that he hasn’t been nearly as spectacular or entertaining as Jackson. Of course, nobody else in football, including the NFL, has, either. What can I say except where’s a “phenomenal” or a “fantastic” when I really need one?

I also don’t have words to describe the experience of playing at Clemson, so let me like try to paint a picture. The Cards will be greeted as warmly as Hillary Clinton at a Donald Trump rally. They’ll think they’re inside a speaker at a Dr. Dre concert.

Amazingly, the point spread has moved in a way that has gamblers muttering to themselves. The Tigers opened as two-point favorites and now are 2 ½ to three-point underdogs. Clemson is an underdog at home about as often as Rick Pitino shops at Jos. A. Bank.

The wild card, if you will, may be the U of L defense. Overshadowed by the Jackson offensive machine, the Cardinal defensive team may have more future NFL players. When my new supply of verbiage arrives, I’ll try to come up with a nickname for them. Suffice it to say that I expect the pass-rushers to feast on Watson sandwiches.

No matter who wins, this game figures to come down to a play or two. That’s often what happens when two superbly talented and well-coached teams go head-to-head. (And, by the way, is there a better coaching name anywhere than Dabo Swinney?) There is no quit in either side.

But it says here that GameDay gadfly Lee Corso would be smart to repeat his performance before the Florida State game and slap on the Cardinal headgear. Make it Louisville 35, Clemson 28.

If it turns out anywhere close to that, I promise you that I’ll have a whole new bag of adjectives and superlatives ready to spread around after the game and for the rest of the season.


Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award twice. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades, but he is perhaps one of media’s most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby

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