The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 28 Louisville Cardinals.
Previewing Louisville’s Offense for 2014:
Exit Teddy Bridgewater. Enter Bobby Petrino. The first guy was Louisville’s dynamic quarterback the last three seasons. The second is the Cardinals’ new head coach, a guy with a proven record of putting 40 points on the scoreboard, regardless of his quarterback. That’s what Louisville expects now that Petrino has replaced Charlie Strong. The Cardinals lack a tested quarterback. Will Gardner completed eight passes last season. But Petrino smiled broadly after Gardner completed 32-of-37 passes for 542 yards and four touchdowns in Louisville’s spring game. The backup spot remains open.
Gardner has every weapon an unproven quarterback could want — halfbacks, wide receivers, tight ends and four returning linemen.
Don’t believe the hype that Petrino is a pass-only coach. He isn’t. Petrino believes in a power-running game, especially while protecting a lead in the second half. Running back is the deepest pool of talent on the team. Dominique Brown led Louisville with 825 yards last season, but the two most impressive runners during the spring were Auburn transfer Michael Dyer and freshman L.J. Scott.
Petrino is convinced that receiver DeVante Parker is a first-round NFL Draft pick because of his size, speed and sure hands. James Quick, a five-star recruit in 2013, should emerge on the other side. Petrino will create ways to get the ball to Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz and tight end Gerald Christian.
Four starters return to what should be one of the better offensive lines in the ACC.
Previewing Louisville’s Defense for 2014:
Petrino’s biggest recruit on defense was bringing coordinator Todd Grantham from Georgia. The Cards ranked first nationally in total defense and second in scoring defense last season, numbers that will be difficult to replicate with only four returning starters — defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin, linebacker James Burgess and corners Charles Gaines and Terell Floyd.
Grantham will have to rebuild the middle of his defense — both tackles, interior linebackers and both safeties.
“I feel real good about our front seven,” Petrino says. “We’re going to be good on the interior. Our linebackers are going to be able to play the way we want to play.”
Here are the guys who will have to deliver to justify Petrino’s confidence: end Sheldon Rankins, nose tackle DeAngelo Brown and linebackers Nick Dawson and Keith Kelsey.
The secondary is a greater concern, because safeties Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith were three-year starters, and Jermaine Reve, the only experienced replacement, missed the spring game with a knee injury. Safety is usually a dangerous spot for a freshman or junior-college transfer, but Grantham will take a long look at true freshman Michael Johnson.
Previewing Louisville’s Specialists for 2014:
Strong was more concerned with ball control and field position than long returns. Petrino will change that. Gaines will handle kickoffs, and Quick, a state champion sprinter, is eager to return kickoffs and punts, if Petrino agrees. Placekicker John Wallace has a strong and accurate leg, making 20-of-24 field goals last season, including 11-of-13 from 30 yards or longer. Punter Ryan Johnson dropped 11 kicks inside the 20.
New quarterback, new coach, new conference (the ACC), new, more formidable schedule. There’s a lot to process for a program that won 23 games as well as the Sugar and Russell Athletic bowls the last two seasons. But Petrino has won everywhere he’s coached in college — including a 41–9 record during his first stint at Louisville. If Gardner stays healthy, the Cards have enough weapons to score big on everybody but Florida State, Clemson and Notre Dame. Defense will determine if Louisville can win more than eight.