Petrino is back at Louisville.
After a successful four-year stint under Charlie Strong, Louisville reached into its past to find its next coach. Strong left for Texas after a 12-1 record in 2013, and athletic director Tom Jurich hired Bobby Petrino from Western Kentucky to guide the Cardinals into the ACC.
Returning to Louisville was a strange journey for Petrino. After leaving to be the head coach with the Falcons in 2007, he spent four years at Arkansas, which culminated in his firing in the spring of 2011. Petrino sat out the 2012 season and resurfaced in '13 for one year with the Hilltoppers.
Louisville was a winner in college football’s realignment cycle, moving into the ACC after spending a season in the American Athletic Conference. While the Cardinals will benefit from the security of playing in the ACC and have a place in one of college football’s Power 5 leagues, this isn’t an easy transition. Louisville will play in the Atlantic Division, creating annual games against Florida State and Clemson. Additionally, the overall league is tougher, with crossover games against the Coastal and off-and-on matchups against Notre Dame increasing Louisville’s strength of schedule.
While the schedule will be tougher, Louisville is a capable of being a top 25 program. The Cardinals were No. 29 in Athlon’s job rankings and No. 6 in the ACC. With good facilities, and the ability to attract talent from Ohio and Florida, Louisville will be a factor in the ACC.
Petrino’s Job History:
2012-13: Western Kentucky – Head Coach
2008-11: Arkansas – Head Coach
2007: Atlanta Falcons – Head Coach
2003-06: Louisville – Head Coach
2002: Auburn – Offensive Coordinator
2001: Jacksonville Jaguars – Offensive Coordinator
1999-00: Jacksonville Jaguars – Quarterbacks
1998: Louisville – Offensive Coordinator
1995-97: Utah State – Offensive Coordinator
1994: Nevada – Offensive Coordinator
1992-93: Arizona State – Quarterbacks
1990-91: Idaho – Offensive Coordinator
1989: Idaho – Quarterbacks
1987-88: Weber State – Wide Receivers
1985-86: Carroll College – Offensive Coordinator
Obstacles to Overcome:
Transitioning to a New League: Moving from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC will be an increased challenge for Louisville. The Cardinals play only three teams from last year’s schedule, with just one of those (Miami) coming in conference play. Each team affected by realignment to a tougher league is a different case study. However, Utah, West Virginia and TCU have struggled in transitioning leagues, while Missouri, Texas A&M and Nebraska have experienced plenty of success in their new conference. With a new league, different opponents in conference play and road environments, it will take a couple of years before Louisville is acclimated to the ACC.
The Secondary: The Cardinals finished 2013 ranked No. 1 in the American Athletic Conference in pass efficiency defense. Louisville allowed only eight passing scores, and quarterbacks completed just 50.7 percent of their passes against this secondary. New coordinator Todd Grantham has work to do in the defensive backfield, as safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor have departed after standout careers. Junior Charles Gaines should be one of the ACC’s top corners, while senior Terell Floyd could shift between corner and safety. With Pryor and Smith gone, the safety position is the biggest concern on defense. Redshirt freshmen Richard Benjamin and Chucky Williams will factor into the mix to start, while Petrino inked junior college recruit James Sample to provide immediate help. The overall inexperience at safety is a concern, and there’s a drop-off expected without Smith and Pryor in the secondary.
Team Strengths for 2014:
Offense: It seems strange to call Louisville’s offense a strength after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. However, new quarterback Will Gardner looks capable of contending for All-ACC honors, the backfield has two potential starters (Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer), receiver DeVante Parker is a legitimate threat and four starters are returning along the offensive line. Despite the loss of Bridgewater, averaging over 30 points per game is within reach for this Cardinals team.
Front Seven on Defense: New coordinator Todd Grantham plans to switch Louisville’s scheme to a 3-4 approach, and the necessary pieces are in place to make that transition in the front seven. Rush end/linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin recorded 9.5 sacks last year and will be one of the ACC’s top defenders. Sophomore DeAngelo Brown is back after missing all of 2013 due to injury to anchor the interior, while the linebacking corps is a strength with Nick Dawson and James Burgess returning. With the concerns in the secondary, it’s critical for Louisville’s front seven to be active and have success in getting to the quarterback.
Roster Talent/Recruiting Trends
|Conference Rank*||National Rank||Three-Star Prospects||Four-Star Prospects||Five-Star Prospects|
|*Rankings from 247Sports Composite|
Louisville's rank among ACC teams was compiled using 247Sports National rankings for 2010-13.
Recruiting rankings aren’t everything, but there are some interesting trends. It’s tough to ask Louisville to out-recruit Florida State or Clemson on an annual basis, but the program has averaged a 41.4 finish nationally over the last five years. The 41.4 finish puts the Cardinals at No. 7 in the ACC during that span. Only one of Charlie Strong’s classes from 2010-13 ranked inside of the top 30.
Petrino’s first class ranked No. 47 but that doesn’t include talented transfers like former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, fromer Texas A&M receiver Ja’Quay Williams and former Georgia cornerback Shaq Wiggins. Those three transfers will be eligible in 2015.
If you can’t sign elite classes, having a head coach who is one of the best in the nation at play-calling and scheming is a must. That’s what Louisville has in Petrino. And it doesn’t hurt to gamble on talented transfers, especially while Petrino and his staff find their footing in the ACC.
Upgrading the overall talent is essential to competing with Florida State and Clemson. By comparison, the Seminoles have inked 16 five-star prospects and 49 four-star recruits since 2010. Louisville has signed no five-star recruits in that span and only 12 four-star prospects.
As mentioned above, the move to the ACC has resulted in a tougher year-to-year schedule for Louisville. But that’s certainly a manageable assignment for one of the ACC’s top six programs. The Cardinals play six 2013 bowl teams this fall, including Clemson and Florida State. Road trips to Notre Dame, Syracuse and Boston College should be swing games for Petrino’s team. A win over Miami in the opener could propel Louisville to a 7-0 record before playing at Clemson on Oct. 11. Transitioning to a new league and playing in new environments might cost Louisville a game it will be favored to win. Yes, the schedule is tougher. However, for a program that has 23 wins over the last two years, the Cardinals should be a lock to earn bowl eligibility and push for nine wins in 2014.
Yes, Bobby Petrino comes with some baggage. The backstory on Petrino is no secret, and his history of job hopping is mentioned frequently. However, considering what transpired at Arkansas, Petrino is running out of options. Another mistake and he might not land another head coaching job at a Power 5 program.
However, even with Petrino’s history and baggage, this is the right hire for Louisville. Athletic director Tom Jurich certainly knows what he is getting with Petrino and needed a home-run hire to help Louisville compete right away in its new conference. The Cardinals are entering a critical time with a move to the ACC. Within the Atlantic Division, Florida State is a national title contender, Clemson has won at least 10 games in three consecutive years, and Boston College and Syracuse went to bowl games last year. Louisville cannot afford to fall behind in the ACC, as it’s a lot tougher to make the climb back to the top. The ACC may lack for national title contenders in the Atlantic after Florida State and Clemson, but the overall depth of the conference is better than the American Athletic.
Petrino will have to raise his recruiting level to beat Florida State and Clemson consistently, but he is one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the nation. With Petrino’s offensive acumen and ability to get everything out of the roster, the Cardinals can mask some of their personnel concerns or talent gap.
Fully adapting to the ACC will take some time. But Petrino is a good fit at Louisville and should add to the strength of the Atlantic Division by consistently keeping the Cardinals right around the top 25 on a national level.
Vegas Expectations: 8 over/under (Bovada)
Athlon 2014 Magazine Projection: 8-4 (5-3)