COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Big East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Charlie Strong, 14-12 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Shawn Watson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vance Bedford
The Cardinals are loaded with promising young talent and should claim the Big East title this season.
Charlie Strong made his reputation on defense, but in two seasons he’s built a dynamic offense driven by young and athletic playmakers. Start with Teddy Bridgewater, recognized as one of the nation’s best true freshman quarterbacks after completing 64.5 percent of his throws for 14 touchdowns and also running for four more scores. Bridgewater is big, tenacious and poised.
Bridgewater’s biggest challenge will be settling on a favorite receiver. Strong went young at that position, too, last season. Three prime targets emerged — Eli Rogers, Michaelee Harris and DeVante Parker. Rogers is the most elusive, a threat to get past defensive backs on every route. Harris is Mr. Good Hands. Parker, at 6'3", is a prime target near the goal line with an amazing ability to grab the ball in crowds; six of his 18 receptions were for scores. Don’t forget possession receiver Scott Radcliff, who led the spring game with nine catches for 119 yards.
Strong wants one of these four guys to emerge as a running back who can handle 15 carries: Dominique Brown, Jeremy Wright, Corvin Lamb or Senorise Perry, who had the best spring. Four starters return across the offensive line, led by center Mario Benavides, who is agile and gritty.
Strong was not overjoyed with Louisville’s defense last season — despite ranking 10th nationally against the run. Consider that a confirmation of his high standards. Roy Philon and Brandon Dunn provide the bulk in the middle, while Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin have emerged as pass-rushing defensive ends.
Linebacker Dexter Heyman will be the most difficult Cardinal to replace. He led the team in tackles, tackles for a loss and interceptions while providing valuable leadership. Preston Brown and Daniel Brown (no relation) have seen significant playing time over the past two seasons and continue to improve. Strong has not hesitated to play freshmen during his first two seasons. Linebackers Keith Brown, James Burgess Jr. and Nick Dawson are highly touted recruits who could see the field.
There is work to do in the secondary. Strong safety Hakeem Smith has been one of the team’s top tacklers for two seasons but does not deliver turnovers. Louisville intercepted only 10 passes last season, seven by the secondary. Corner Adrian Bushell is the best coverage guy, but Louisville gave up 20 passing touchdowns.
DEXTER HEYMAN, LB
Heyman was a key cog in Louisville’s defense last season, leading the team with 90 stops and 16 tackles for a loss. Preston Brown, who tied for second on the defense with 84 tackles last season, is expected to move from the strongside to the middle to replace Heyman.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB – The sky is the limit for Bridgewater after throwing for 2,129 yards and 14 scores last year.
Adrian Bushell, CB – Emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the Big East last season, while recording 50 tackles and one interception.
Hakeem Smith, S – Has earned all-conference honors the last two years and tied for second on the team with 84 tackles last year.
|Sept. 8th||Missouri State|
|Sept. 15th||North Carolina|
|Sept. 22nd||at Florida International|
|Sept. 29th||at Southern Miss|
|Oct. 13th||at Pittsburg|
Rogers and Radcliff handled punt returns last season, but Bushell, who is more of big-play threat, is likely to be the primary return specialist. Bushell returned a kickoff 100 yards in 2012. Punter will be settled in fall camp. John Wallace, a redshirt freshman, banged a 52-yard field goal in the Spring Game.
It’s not outrageous to project 10 victories for this team, considering the way Bridgewater and his young receivers finished last season. Louisville’s two most difficult non-league games will be played at home (Kentucky, North Carolina). Plus, Temple has replaced West Virginia in the Big East.
Strong expects his team to be one of the favorites in the diminished Big East and started downplaying expectations during the spring by reminding everyone that many publications picked Louisville to finish eighth last season. With so many key pieces returning and a solid recruiting class, expectations are raging.
Unless there is a string of injuries, expect this team to win the Big East, play in a BCS game and make Strong one of the nation’s hottest coaching candidates.