CFN Preview 2013 - Louisville Cardinals
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Louisville Cardinals
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By Richard Cirminiello
How hot is Louisville these days? So hot that anything less than a perfect 2013 season will be viewed as a disappointment.
Head coach: Charlie Strong
Third Year: 14-12
Off. 23, Def. 22, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 12
Ten Best Louisville Players
1. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Jr.
2. FS Calvin Pryor, Jr.
3. SS Hakeem Smith, Sr.
4. WR DeVante Parker, Jr.
5. LB Preston Brown, Sr.
6. RB Michael Dyer, Jr.
7. RB Senorise Perry, Sr.
8. WR Damian Copeland, Sr.
9. DE Marcus Smith, Sr.
10. LG John Miller, Jr.
9/7 Eastern Kentucky
9/14 at Kentucky
9/28 OPEN DATE
10/5 at Temple
10/26 at USF
11/2 OPEN DATE
11/8 at Connecticut
11/30 OPEN DATE
12/5 at Cincinnati
The Cardinals are one of the fastest surging programs in America. In just the past year, they've captured the Big East, shocked No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl and forged an agreement to join the ACC in 2014. Heady times indeed in the ‘Ville. Best of all, the victories—on and off the field—may have been setting the table for the season ahead.
Louisville has a head of steam. It has talent as well. The head coach and the star quarterback return, Charlie Strong for his fourth season and Teddy Bridgewater for his third, respectively. Strong has done a magnificent job of raising the overall talent level and changing the climate from the ill-fated Steve Kragthorpe era. He has been a transformational figure in every sense of the word. Bridgewater gives the Cardinals their first Heisman candidate in years, a foundational leader who has already begun to attract the attention of NFL scouts.
The Cardinals will start 2013 with few glaring holes, the by-product of losing just 11 letterwinners, including three from the D, from a squad that went 11-2 in the prior year. So what will the expectations be for a school with so many returning veterans? It's a little hard to quantify, because Louisville has one year left to serve in the Big East, er, American Athletic Conference. The Cards should be favored in every game, most by double-digits. Oh, and the only Top 25 opponents they'll face during the regular season will be the ones from the AAC that get hot and temporarily slip into the back end of the rankings.
Louisville has in many ways become West Virginia, when Rich Rodriguez was on the sidelines. It's not only the class of the conference formerly known as the Big East, but it also has the right mix of big league talent and navigable schedule to be considered a darkhorse candidate for the BCS National Championship Game. It's going to take an upset to defeat these upwardly-mobile Cardinals, with the formidable coach-QB combo of Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater. With no marquee regular season games until it joins the ACC, though, can Louisville earn enough respect by becoming more than just a really good team from a really mediocre conference?
What to watch for on offense: The battle for touches among the receivers and tight ends will be epic. The Cardinals might have as much depth as any team in the FBS, complementing three of last season's top four pass-catchers with a swath of gifted newcomers. The passing game would have been set had only DeVante Parker, Eli Rogers and Damian Copeland been around. But QB Teddy Bridgewater will have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal now that Tennessee transfer Matt Milton, Florida transfers Gerald Christian and Robert Clark, five-star recruit James Quick and recovering former starter Michaelee Harris are available.
What to watch for on defense: Who'll answer the challenge by getting to the quarterback consistently? The Cardinals had just 22 sacks a year ago, showing only intermittent flashes of pressure from the front seven. That reality has to change this fall. This program is pining for someone, preferably a defensive lineman, who can evolve into an eight or nine-sack guy in 2013. Senior Marcus Smith is capable of filling the job requirement, as is junior Lorenzo Mauldin. For a brief spurt last year, Mauldin looked as if he might bloom into a scary threat off the edge.
The team will be far better if… the special teams unit starts carry more of its weight. It might sound like a minor issue, but the Cardinals were woefully ineffective in the game's third phase, heaping more pressure on the offense and the defense. John Wallace was a quality placekicker, but the team ranked 119th in net punting, 107th in punt returns, 118th in kickoff returns and 110th in kick coverage. Even modest improvements here could have a profound impact on the program as a whole.
The Schedule: There's no excuse. There isn't a prolonged run of road games like most Big East teams have to deal with, and there's no one on the schedule who should be the favorite. The Cardinals don't have a tough non-conference game – no, going to Kentucky doesn't count – and the big conference showdown against Rutgers is at home. If this really is a BCS caliber team, going to South Florida and Connecticut won't be a problem, and home games against Houston and Memphis should be layups before getting a week off to prepare for the toughest game on the slate at Cincinnati.
Best offensive player: Junior QB Teddy Bridgewater. Plenty of quarterbacks enjoy their biggest growth spurt in Year 2 as a starter. Bridgewater was one of them in 2012. He blossomed into one of the game's premier young passers, going 287-of-419 for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and only eight picks to earn the Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Bridgewater has all of the tools of a future NFL starter, from his strong arm and sound decision-making to the way he plays during crunch time. He'll spend this season elevating the program a notch higher, while improving his pro draft stock.
Best defensive player: Junior FS Calvin Pryor. When 2012 began, Pryor wasn't even supposed to be the best safety on this team, an honor belonging to perennial all-star Hakeem Smith. However, the 6-2, 210-pounder was full of surprises last season. From a backup to the All-Big East Second Team practically overnight, he was as valuable and as disruptive as any Cardinal on this side of the ball. Pryor's instincts and nasty on-field demeanor led him to 100 tackles, two interceptions and five forced fumbles, setting the table for what could be his finale as an amateur.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore LT Abraham Garcia. Louisville's blocking was middling last season, and now it must replace its starting center and left tackle. Both positions are crucial, but left tackle is doubly important because it protects the backside of star QB Teddy Bridgewater. If No. 5 doesn't have time or, worse yet, absorbs too many hits, this team can't possibly reach all of its 2013 goals. Garcia has just minimal experience at Louisville, so it'll be interesting to see how he handles this key promotion.
The season will be a success if ... Louisville is undefeated when the postseason begins. Will anything else be acceptable for this team? The toughest game at Papa John's this year might be Ohio, Rutgers or UCF. On the road? Cincinnati, though South Florida and rival Kentucky obviously can't be overlooked. The point is that the Cardinals should sweep their regular season slate of games, win the American Athletic Conference and head back to a BCS bowl game. Anything less will be missing the mark in 2013.
Key game: Dec. 5 at Cincinnati. The annual tilt between these border rivals is for the Keg of Nails. This year's primetime, Friday night meeting at Nippert Stadium could have a lot more than just household hardware items hanging in the balance. Of course, when two of the league's better teams meet, there will always be championship implications. For Louisville, though, the AAC crown might be just a small part of the grand equation. If the Cards can get to this point unblemished, the short trip to Cincy would represent their final chance to show voters that they belong in the BCS National Championship Game discussion.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per rush: Louisville 3.5 – Opponents 4.3
- Third-down %: Louisville 50% – Opponents 42%
- Third-quarter scoring: Louisville 98 – Opponents 35
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