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Thanks for stopping by; come back again soon. But not this year.

Two big performances back-to-back in front of a national audience was too much to ask, apparently, as Louisville’s surprising bid for a berth in the national championship game melted away under the pressure of Rutgers’ relentless defense Thursday night in a 28-25 upset.

The Scarlet Knights, also newcomers to the table of big-time college football, rebounded nicely after spotting the Cardinals an 18-point lead by holding the No. 3 team and second-ranked offense in the country to a paltry 58 second-half yards.

It was no secret No. 15 Rutgers were stingy — like the Louisville offense, the Knights’ defense is ranked in the top-five. But few imagined the Knights’ small but quick front line and speedy linebackers would humiliate the Cardinal O-line like they did.

Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, touted as a Heisman hopeful until injuries sidelined him for a handful of games, was sacked five times and looked completely lost many other times. The Rutgers defense was in his face so fast that receivers weren’t able to get downfield fast enough to keep the chains moving in the second half.

Frequent sideline camera shots revealed he and his older brother Jeff — also a former Cardinal QB and the current QB coach — arguing about offensive ineffectiveness. ESPN announcers Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler both said Jeff Brohm should’ve saved some of his venom for the Cards’ O-line. I agree, to a degree, but the fact is Brian Brohm was flat-out confused and rattled, sensing pressure even when it wasn’t there and bailing out of the pocket too soon on several occasions.

Head coach Bobby Petrino, the offensive guru, also has to share in the blame for a monumental collapse. He could’ve called a few more screen passes to keep the Rutgers defense honest, but didn’t.

It would be unfair to call out the Cardinal defense on this one, however. They held Rutgers in check as long as they possibly could, but with the Louisville offense unable to move the chains and eat up clock, the defense was worn out by the fourth quarter, when outstanding running back Ray Rice picked up the bulk of his 131 yards on the ground.

It would be easy to say Thursday night was bad karma coming back to haunt Louisville after the regrettable way they withdrew their scholarship offer for Rockcastle County lineman Brad Durham last week. But the facts are the Cardinals got a big 25-7 first-half lead, relaxed, and couldn’t recapture the intensity once Rutgers upped its game in the second half.

Should Rutgers finish undefeated, it would be a shame for them not to get a national title shot, but they probably won’t. Truthfully, I figure an angry West Virginia team will save face from their beating at Louisville by spoiling things for the Knights in the teams’ regular-season finale at Morgantown on Dec. 2, a game which figures to be either ESPN or ABC’s prime-time game that night.

What that likely will do, assuming Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers all win out, is create a three-way tie atop the Big East. Should that happen, Louisville still has a chance at a BCS bowl, as the team ranked highest of the three in the final BCS poll would get the nod.

• Speaking of bowls, by the time you read this, Kentucky may have made its first bowl reservations since 1999’s trip to Nashville for the Music City Bowl.

But even if the ‘Cats aren’t able to lock up that bid at home Saturday against Vanderbilt (game too late for this edition of the Sentinel-Echo), they still have another home shot against 1-7 Louisiana-Monroe, and on the road at Tennessee.

Make your reservations early, Cat fans. Those bowl berths don’t happen too often, and it may be another decade before Kentucky gets back. But with the improvements the Wildcats have made in the past few years on the recruiting landscape, maybe it’ll be sooner.

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