2014 CFN Preview - Louisville Cardinals
Louisville WR DeVante Parker
Louisville WR DeVante Parker
Posted Jul 29, 2014

Preview 2014 - Welcome to the ACC, Louisville, and welcome back to your head coach. (Getty Images)

Louisville Cardinals

Preview 2014

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By Rich Cirminiello

Head coach: Bobby Petrino
5th Year (2003-2006): 41-9
10th year overall: 83-30
Returning Lettermen
Off. 25, Def. 14, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best UofL Players
1. WR DeVante Parker, Sr.
2. DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr.
3. CB Charles Gaines, Jr.
4. OT Jamon Brown, Sr.
5. C Jake Smith, Sr.
6. RB Dominique Brown, Sr.
7. OG John Miller, Sr.
8. LB James Burgess, Jr.
9. TE Gerald Christian, Sr.
10. WR Eli Rogers, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Sep. 1 Miami
Sep. 6 Murray State
Sep. 13 at Virginia
Sep. 20 at FIU
Sep. 27 Wake Forest
Oct. 3 at Syracuse
Oct. 11 at Clemson
Oct. 18 NC State
Oct. 30 Florida State
Nov. 8 at Boston College
Nov. 22 at Notre Dame
Nov. 29 Kentucky

Change is hard. Louisville is anxiously nodding its head in agreement.

Teddy Bridgewater is preparing for a career as an NFL quarterback. Charlie Strong is preparing for his first season as a Longhorn. And the American is but a distant memory, replaced by a timely relocation to the ACC. Louisville is on solid footing for the long-term, but 2014 will be wrought with all kinds of tricky challenges.

Just how well the program weathers the initial storm will depend heavily on the ability of Bobby Petrino to recapture the magic he had as the school’s head coach from 2003-06. Hiring Petrino made for a shrewd reunion, provided the coach leaves his baggage at Louisville International Airport.

Petrino is one of the best in the business, an offensive innovator who excels at developing young quarterbacks. He was 41-9 in his first stint in Derby City. He won 29 games in his final three seasons at Arkansas. He went 8-4 last fall at Western Kentucky.

Yet, the records aren’t what folks remember when the subject is Petrino. They remember the abrupt in-season exit from the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. And the motorcycle accident, with Jessica Dorrell aboard, that cost him the Razorbacks job two years ago.

With Petrino comes a heavy dose of risk—and reward. Athletic director Tom Jurich is betting on his coach to keep the program on a path to prosperity. The Cardinals went 23-3 over the past two years for Strong, who’d thoroughly scrubbed any remnants of the failed three-year Steve Kragthorpe experiment. It’s now up to Petrino and his staff to solidify what Strong built, while making an opportunistic step up in weight class.

The first order of business this offseason will be to install new systems on both sides of the ball. Petrino’s offense will not only feature an unproven triggerman, but the terminology and the philosophy is going to change. Yeah, the Cardinals want to be balanced, but the passing game—and the quarterbacks—will be the stars of the show going forward. On defense, former Georgia coordinator Todd Grantham is employing a 3-4 alignment that shifts smaller ends to outside linebacker, and puts a premium on immovable nose tackles. Grantham inherits a unit that was dynamite a year ago, but is also replacing seven quality starters.

After a seven-year hiatus, Petrino is back in Louisville, looking to make the most of his second chance at a spotlight school. Not many coaches get the opportunity for a sequel with a former employer. In that genre, Petrino needs to be Bill Snyder or Mike Riley, and not John Robinson or Johnny Majors. The Cardinals are undergoing significant changes in 2014, both on and off the field. The constant? They’re still one of the surging programs in America, a trend Petrino & Co. are determined to further as the newest member of the ACC.

What to watch for on offense: Ready for life after Teddy. You don’t get better after losing a quarterback the caliber of Teddy Bridgewater. But don’t expect Louisville to travel back to the Dark Ages. The Cards return a very nice assortment of talent, including the leading rusher, nearly every receiver and the entire starting O-line, from a group that underachieved in 2013. Oh, and the new staff, led by Petrino and coordinator Garrick McGee, is far more inventive than the prior staff. If Bridgewater’s successor is even competent, Louisville could be home to one of the ACC’s top attacks this fall.

What to watch for on defense: The safety battle. When Calvin Pryor decided to leave early for the NFL Draft, it meant the Cardinals would be without both members of a dynamite safety tandem; four-time all-star Hakeem Smith was a senior in 2013. Veteran corners Charles Gaines and Terell Floyd will help the rebuilding secondary, but the onus falls on the new safeties to pull their weight. Versatile junior Jermaine Reve holds an edge on redshirt freshman Richard Benjamin at free safety. Strong safety could go down to the wire between rookie Chucky Williams and gifted junior Gerod Holliman.

The team will be far better if… it attempts fewer field goals. Louisville was 28th in total offense a year ago, yet averaged just 28 points in eight conference games. Why? Too many John Wallace field goal tries, when the end zone was the target. The Cardinals were 89th in the country in red-zone touchdown rate, despite being led by one of the game’s best quarterbacks. One of the many goals of the Petrino-led staff will be to make the offense more efficient, even if the total yardage output doesn’t match last year’s numbers.

The Schedule: It’s interesting. Life in the ACC kicks off with a rematch of your 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl - a Louisville 36-9 win over Miami – and then after the breather against Murray State, the road games kick in with four in five weeks including dates at Syracuse and Clemson. The Florida State game is at home, and there’s a week off to prepare for it. There’s another long road stretch going from October 30th to November 29th away from home, going to Boston College and Notre Dame with an off-week in the middle. Missing North Carolina and Georgia Tech from the Coastal is a plus with the Miami and Virginia games not that bad.

Best offensive player: Senior WR DeVante Parker. Despite being NFL-ready, Parker wasn’t quite ready to leave the Cardinals, which will provide a major boost to the 2014 passing game. He’s Louisville’s top offensive playmaker, a big target who’ll make life much easier for QB Teddy Bridgewater’s heir apparent. Parker is a 6-3 acrobat, affording his quarterback the luxury of lofting the ball into the air without reservations or repercussions. When stretches the field, the other Cardinal skill position players become the beneficiaries.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Lorenzo Mauldin. For a 3-4 defense to be successful, it needs a stout nose tackle and explosive outside linebackers. Mauldin has the latter covered. His shift from defensive end makes sense, both for his future and for the benefit of the D. He operates with a predator’s mentality, actively looking to wreak havoc in the backfield. Now that he’ll have his eyes up, as opposed to being buried in the trenches, Mauldin will get a head start by seeing the entire field as the play develops.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Will Gardner. No one was happier about the Petrino hiring than Gardner. The teacher has a long list of former quarterbacks who went on to play in the NFL. His latest pupil could be next in line to play on Sundays. Gardner has the edge right now over touted redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin and senior Brett Nelson. The 6-5, 226-pounder served as Bridgewater’s backup in 2013, but he only attempted a dozen passes. So far, the team has been impressed by Gardner’s leadership and overall feel for the game.

The season will be a success if ... the Cardinals win eight games. Starting a season with a new coach and a new quarterback is never easy. But Louisville is better than most people think. There’s a lot of quality players still left on campus, and it’s not as if Petrino is a stranger to starting from scratch. This program could be a pleasant surprise in its ACC debut, as long as the quarterback situation isn’t a year-long problem. A visit from Florida State and road games at Clemson and at Notre Dame will keep the Cards from climbing much higher.

Key game: Sept. 1 vs. Miami. Just how far has Louisville slipped from last year’s 12-1 campaign? The opener will provide some poignant answers. The Cards whacked the Canes, 36-9, in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl, a game played in the state of Florida. In this meeting, Louisville gets to host at Papa John’s, with a chance to go back-to-back against one of the ACC’s name brand programs. There’ll be storylines galore on Labor Day, from Petrino’s return to the starting debuts of both schools’ quarterbacks.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Scoring: Louisville 35.2 – Opponents 12.2
- Third-down %: Louisville 56% – Opponents 27%
- Sacks: Louisville 43 – Opponents 26

- 2014 Louisville Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players