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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2013 PRESEASON TOP 25

#9

NATIONAL FORECAST

#9

American Athletic PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Charlie Strong, | OFF. COORDINATOR: Shawn Watson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vance Bedford

OFFENSE

Charlie Strong ended spring practice by saying that he would not trade Teddy Bridgewater for Johnny Manziel — and nobody laughed. A creative playmaker, Bridgewater ignored a broken wrist to direct Louisville to a dominant 33–23 Sugar Bowl win over Florida. It’s difficult to imagine that Bridgewater could improve his 27 touchdown passes and 69.0 completion percentage season, but Strong says that Bridgewater knows the schemes as well as his assistants. Louisville’s only fear is another injury to Bridgewater, because the backups lack any game experience.

But that’s the only place Strong’s team lacks sizzle. Halfback Dominique Brown returned from a knee injury for the Spring Game to run like the power back Strong covets. He’ll share time with Senorise Perry, who is also returning from knee surgery. Former Auburn running back Michael Dyer transferred to Louisville in August and is expected to share the workload at running back with Perry and Brown. Bridgewater throws to an elite group of receivers. Junior DeVante Parker is NFL-ready, averaging nearly 19 yards per catch. Eli Rogers has been Bridgewater’s security blanket since high school. Speedster Damian Copeland led the team in receptions.

Strong’s only challenge is replacing two three-year starters on the offensive line. Coaches experimented with guard Jake Smith at the center spot during spring practice, a move Bridgewater endorsed, but Smith remains at guard for now. Tackle Abraham “Nacho” Garcia played as a true freshman and has star potential.

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DEFENSE

Strong made his name as a defensive coordinator, and he bristled last season over grumbling about the defense. But there were reasons for the unease. Louisville did not rank in the top half of the Big East in rushing or scoring defense, and the Cardinals did not play to their potential until the Sugar Bowl, when they recorded a pair of interceptions and three sacks against the Gators.

Only one full-time starter, cornerback Adrian Bushell, must be replaced from that group, so expectations will be extremely high.

Defensive tackles Brandon Dunn and Jamaine Brooks are confirmed run-stuffers. They demand double teams that create lanes for Deiontrez Mount to pursue the quarterback. Linebacker Preston Brown remains a foundational piece of the defense that Strong started building in 2010, and sophomores James Burgess and Keith Brown have star potential. George Durant fended off a challenge from the youngsters and held on to his outside linebacker spot. Terell Floyd mans a cornerback spot, where he will benefit from the support of a pair of ferocious hitters — safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor.

Key Player

Teddy Bridgewater, QB – Blossomed into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks last year, throwing for 3,718 yards and 27 scores. If he declares early, Bridgewater could be one of the top-five picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Hakeem Smith, S – Three-year starter and three-time all-conference performer at safety. Smith recorded 73 tackles and seven pass breakups in 2012.

DeVante Parker, WR – Emerged as Teddy Bridgewater’s big-play threat last season, catching 40 passes for 744 yards and 10 scores.

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

This is another area where Louisville needs improvement. The Cards failed to rank in the top 100 in either punt or kickoff returns. Perhaps freshman James Quick, who turned down offers from Ohio State, Tennessee and Oregon to stay home, can change that, because he excelled returning punts in high school and is a sprint champion. Placekicker John Wallace was 14-of-14 inside 40 yards. Ryan Johnson, the punter, is dependable, but not spectacular.

FINAL ANALYSIS

With 14 returning starters, a likely first-round draft pick at quarterback and memories of thumping Florida in New Orleans, anything less than a 12–0 season would be considered a disappointment by many Louisville fans. Strong’s team is loaded with speed, toughness and experience on both sides of the ball.

Another reason for raging expectations: the schedule. Louisville likely will not play a top-25 team during the regular season now that Boise State has snubbed the crumbling Big East — known now as the American Athletic Conference. Syracuse, one of two teams to beat Louisville in 2012, is gone to the ACC. That leaves a rivalry game at Kentucky and a season-ending visit to Cincinnati as the major obstacles.

 

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5 Greatest Moments in Louisville Cardinals Football History

10 Greatest Louisville Cardinals Players (since 1967)

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5 Greatest Moments in Boise State Broncos Football History

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#26

NATIONAL FORECAST

#26

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Lane Kiffin, 25-13 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lane Kiffin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Clancy Pendergast

OFFENSE

The first order of business, obviously, is to identify a starting quarterback. Coach Lane Kiffin wouldn’t do it at the end of spring camp, so that means the new starter won’t be named until a couple of weeks into fall practice. The competition is between third-year sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, with true freshman Max Browne the longshot. The feeling is that Kiffin leans toward Wittek, who is bigger with a stronger arm, although Kessler is the “gamer” who makes fewer mistakes. Neither one is likely to make Trojans fans forget Matt Barkley, who broke all the school’s career passing records before moving on to the NFL.

Whoever winds up with the job will have the luxury of throwing to one of the finest pass-catching tandems in the country. The star is All-American Marqise Lee, who won the Biletnikoff Award and should be a Heisman Trophy contender. Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He will be joined by flashy Nelson Agholor, who had an excellent freshman season and was the team’s most consistent offensive player in the spring. At tight end, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer are both big and talented enough to be considered solid NFL prospects.

Kiffin’s teams always pass well, but it remains to be seen if he can produce the kind of overpowering running game featured by USC teams in the past. Senior Silas Redd, who ran for 905 yards, and freshman Justin Davis, who was the surprise of the spring, will headline a rushing game that will only be as effective as an offensive line that returns plenty of experience. Replacing center Khaled Holmes will be difficult, and it remains to be seen if huge junior Aundrey Walker can handle the all-important left tackle position. It was Walker’s missed assignment that led to Barkley’s season-ending injury in the UCLA game.



DEFENSE

Monte Kiffin, the head coach’s father, resigned as defensive coordinator and was replaced by Clancy Pendergast, who has installed a new 5-2 scheme that should take full advantage of a talented defensive line that ranks among the best and deepest in the conference. Morgan Breslin, who had 13 sacks a year ago, will be an end/outside linebacker hybrid now. With Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard, George Uko and fast-rising freshman Kenny Bigelow, among others, this could be a dominant unit.

Potential star Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson, the most improved player of the spring, will start at linebacker, while Dion Bailey tries to make the move from linebacker to strong safety. The big question is the rest of a secondary that is short on experience. Junior Josh Shaw will play somewhere, but after that it is difficult to know who will be starting where.

SPECIALISTS

Andre Heidari should be among the better placekickers in the country. Kris Albarado will be the new punter, with Lee, Agholor and Anthony Brown featured as kick returners.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Kiffin is feeling considerable heat after 2012’s disappointing 7–6 finish for a team some ranked No. 1 nationally heading into the season. Now he has the unenviable task of trying to return to prominence with an inexperienced quarterback, a major question mark at left tackle and a defense that could be vulnerable in the secondary.

If nothing else, at least he gets a break in a schedule that doesn’t include national power Oregon and opens with four games, three of them at home, that the Trojans should win.

After that, though, things get difficult. The feeling is Kiffin needs nine or 10 victories, or his job could be in serious jeopardy.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2013 PRESEASON TOP 25

#12

NATIONAL FORECAST

#12

SEC West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Les Miles, 85-21 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Cam Cameron | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Chavis

OFFENSE

Zach Mettenberger is back for his second year as a starter after a junior season that was ushered in with huge expectations — perhaps too big — and wavered between disappointing, mediocre and effective. He wound up with 2,609 passing yards, but only 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has a reputation as a strong tutor of quarterbacks, and he could be a huge influence on Mettenberger in a season in which LSU needs its quarterback to be productive.

In the backfield, Jeremy Hill exploded as a go-to back midway through his freshman campaign and led the Tigers with 755 rushing yards. However, he is facing a suspension after an arrest in late April after allegedly punching a man outside of a bar. Even though Hill will be missed, LSU, as usual, has other quality options in the backfield. Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard both spent time as the lead back last season.

Receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were special at times in 2012, but way too ordinary at others. They need to limit their drops and improve their route-running. Junior college transfer Quantavius Leslie could give LSU a home run threat.

The Tigers go into the season with four veterans up front, augmented by a host of promising newcomers. The one major hole is at center, where Elliott Porter takes over for three-year starter P.J. Lonergan. The right side seems fairly locked down, with Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander back at guard and tackle, respectively. Guard Josh Williford's status is uncertain after a concussion suffered in fall camp.

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DEFENSE

The rebuilding of the defense begins up front, although this isn’t exactly a starting-from-scratch project. In fact, the experienced players back — Jermauria Rasco, Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson and Danielle Hunter — may be more athletic and potentially more explosive in terms of generating a pass rush than the recently departed group.

No player was more valuable to the LSU defense in 2012 than departed linebacker Kevin Minter, who more or less took away the middle of the field. A talented six-man 2012 linebacker recruiting class helps fill the gaps along with one of the state’s best prep players, Kendell Beckwith. Senior Lamin Barrow should also be an anchor after he played a strong second fiddle to Minter with 104 tackles.

There will be some new faces in some prominent roles in the secondary. Cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins were forced into action as true freshmen last fall and showed flashes of a bright future. But both also have to get better across the board for the secondary to improve after a late-season fade cost the Tigers wins against Alabama and Clemson. The safety spots seem to be in good hands, with senior Craig Loston — if he can stay healthy — and junior Ronald Martin.

Key Player

Zach Mettenberger, QB – Showed signs of being an All-SEC-caliber quarterback at times and now has a new offensive coordinator to help him find consistency.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR – The Tigers need Beckham to limit his drops and use his athleticism (16.6 ypc) to produce big plays.

La’el Collins, OL – Gives the Tigers a veteran to plug in at left tackle or one to keep at left guard if a younger lineman emerges. Either way, he is the anchor up front.

Lamin Barrow, LB – Overshadowed by Kevin Minter, but he was one of the stalwarts in a linebacker corps that helped camouflage some inexperience and youth in the secondary.

Anthony Johnson, DT – Blossomed as a sophomore as a run-stuffer and pass-rusher and comes back as LSU’s best and most experienced man on the front four.

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

Yes, LSU even got stung by early departures in the kicking department when wacky but talented punter Brad Wing left for the NFL. But another strong-legged Australian, Jamie Keehn, showed his value in the bowl game when he averaged 44.6 yards per kick. The placekicking spot is up for grabs between junior James Hairston, who has kicked off the last few seasons, and walk-on Colby Delahoussaye. 

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Tigers were hit hard by early departures to the NFL, leaving only 10 starters returning in 2013. The cupboard isn’t bare for Les Miles, but the Tigers are behind Alabama and Texas A&M in the SEC West pecking order. LSU won’t abandon its run-first approach on offense, but Cameron, the new coordinator, is tasked with getting more production from Mettenberger. The defense has plenty of young talent and will get better as the season progresses. However, there will be an adjustment period with the departure of six key linemen, an All-SEC linebacker and two starters in the secondary.

 

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