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 LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -When Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm decided to bypass the NFL draft and return for his senior season last winter, the hometown kid said he felt he owed it to the program to help it take one last step toward national prominence.
The school returned the favor by launching Brohm's Heisman Trophy candidacy in earnest - complete with the Web site and magazine covers that come along with it.
Then the Cardinals started playing and Brohm's grand finale turned out to be a huge flop.
Brohm steps onto the field at Cardinal Stadium for the final time when Louisville (5-6, 2-4) host Rutgers (7-4, 3-3) Thursday night. There will be no talk of Heisman Trophies, trips to New York or the Bowl Championship Series.
Instead, it will simply be a chance for the golden boy of Louisville's first football family - father Oscar and brothers Jeff and Greg all played for the Cardinals - to take one final bow in front of the faithful who have made red No. 12 jerseys the fashion choice at home games the last four years.
For all of the problems during Louisville's nightmarish season, the lone constant has been Brohm, who's continued to put up eye-popping numbers even as the season crumbled.
Brohm ranks in the top 15 in the country in passing yards (3,787), efficiency (152.1) and touchdowns (29), and he's done it while running a more conventional offense than the pass-happy attacks orchestrated by Hawaii's Colt Brennan and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell or the versatile spread offense run by Missouri's Chase Daniel.
With a touchdown pass against the Scarlet Knights, Brohm will set a new school record for touchdown passes in a season. He'll end his career as the Big East's all-time leader in yards passing while playing just three years in the conference.
But Brohm's Heisman hopes and the preseason optimism surrounding the Cardinals and first-year coach Steve Kragthorpe vanished early.
Consecutive losses to Kentucky and Syracuse - games in which Brohm threw for 921 yards and six touchdowns - sent the Cardinals tumbling out of the top 10, taking Brohm's Heisman chances and Louisville's hopes for a second straight Big East title along with it.
Not that he's complaining. Brohm knew coming in that all the yards, touchdowns and Web site hits at www.brianbrohm.info pale in comparison to the one number Heisman voters look at first: wins.
``I understood that if we didn't play well as a team, I wasn't going to be in that race no matter what,'' Brohm said. ``The really disappointing thing is not going in there and playing well as a team week in and week out.''
Even now, with a bowl berth unlikely on a team that's lost more games this season (six) than in his first three years with the program combined (five), Brohm doesn't regret his decision to put off NFL millions for a shot at a national title.
``I never really look back at it. I think at the time I made the right decision, and even now when I look back at it I still think I made the right decision,'' he said. ``I do feel like I've gotten much better as a player.''
Just not in the way that he expected.
Playing behind an injury-depleted offensive line with no real running game on a team that's been forced to play catch-up most of the year thanks to one of the worst defenses in the country, Brohm feels he's been able to prove he's not just a product of former coach Bobby Petrino's quarterback-friendly system.
``He's stood in there and made some tremendous throws with people breathing down his neck, pressure in his face,'' Kragthorpe said. ``And also to me he's done it in situations where guys with lesser character would mail it in.''
Strange as it sounds, Kragthorpe said Louisville's struggles this season may actually help Brohm in the NFL.
Projected as a first-round pick last year, Brohm has done little to hurt his draft stock, thanks in part to his ability to thrive on one of the country's most underachieving teams.
``He's been able to show people exactly what he's capable of doing in a situation where it might not be the absolute best scenario,'' Kragthorpe said. ``He's been able to bring us back from behind a couple times, rally us. And he's not done it just one time, he's done it numerous times this season.''
One more time would be nice. It won't be easy against the Scarlet Knights, who handed Louisville it's only loss last season by battering Brohm.
A winner throughout his high school and college career, Brohm said the lasting lesson of this lost season will be just how fine the line is between winning and losing.
``Sometimes when you're winning that often, you can take it for granted that you're going to keep winning,'' he said. ``Being able to deal with adversity, being able to keep a positive outlook even if your team is struggling ... (I've been) trying to do those type of things.''

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