Believe it or not, Louisville has not been crowned the American Athletic Conference champions quite yet.
The Cardinals are the presumptive favorite in the league and one of a handful teams in the country capable of going undefeated during the regular season. But Louisville does have holes. The Cards ranked last in the Big East in sacks and tackles for a loss last season, contributing to a run defense that ranked sixth.
Moreover, Louisville’s opponents don’t want to see the Cardinals win a league title in their final season in the league. A Sugar Bowl dismantling of Florida may have built momentum for Louisville for 2013, but many AAC opponents remember Louisville losing to Syracuse in convincing fashion and to bowl no-show Connecticut.
Our pivotal players for the American pinpoints a player Louisville needs to assert its dominance in the league, plus three other players other AAC contenders will need to step up in order to challenge Louisville.
Our criteria for pivotal players:
1. He plays for a conference or division contender.
2. He is an unproven commodity in some way.
3. He plays at a position his team needs to perform in order to win a division or conference title.
We continue our look at pivotal players with the American after we profiled the ACC yesterday:
Ralph David Abernathy IV, RB, Cincinnati
Cincinnati made things work last season despite changing quarterbacks from Munchie Legaux to Brendon Kay largely because of workhorse back George Winn, who rushed for 1,334 yards on 243 carries last season. Abernathy is a about 60 pounds lighter than Winn, so expecting another 200 carries from him may be a bit optimistic. Still, Abernathy has been a multi-faceted offensive threat, averaging 5.3 yards per carry on 69 attempts and 12.1 yards on 28 catches last season. Junior college transfers Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams will take some of the pressure off his workload at tailback, but Abernathy needs to be a breakaway threat.
Demetris Anderson, DT, UCF
UCF isthe only Conference USA import ready to compete for an American Athletic Conference title this season. And after Louisville’s Teddy Bridgwater, UCF’s Blake Bortles is the top quarterback in the league. UCF had one of the better defenses in Conference USA, but that unit returns only four starters. One of the key new faces will be the defensive tackle Anderson, who was recruited by Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois before grayshirting with the Knights.
Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers
A nationally prominent recruit in 2011 who elected to stay in New Jersey, Huggins has yet to break out with Rutgers. He’s shown flashes, most notably a 179-yard effort against Cincinnati last season, but Huggins has yet to play a full season. With Jawan Jamison gone, now is the time for Huggins to deliver on his potential.
Lorenzo Mauldin, DE, Louisville
The Cardinals had 19 sacks during the regular season and nine of those came in a two-game span against Pittsburgh and USF. They mustered only two in the losses against Syracuse and UConn. Even though Louisville loses standout cornerback Adrian Bushell, the pass rush and run defense has to be one of the most worrisome parts of the Cardinals team. Mauldin led the way up front on defense in the wins over Pitt and USF, so he’ll be closely watched in 2013.