Everything seemed to bounce Louisville’s way in 2012, as the Cardinals managed to survive two late-season conference losses to win the Big East, and coach Charlie Strong turned down lucrative opportunities in the SEC to stay with the Cardinals. What can Louisville do for an encore? In their final season in the Big East, the Cardinals are on the shortlist of national title contenders. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is one of the best in the nation and has the Big East’s top receiving corps at his disposal. The defense returns nine starters from a unit that allowed just 340.3 yards per game last season. Assuming Louisville can plug its losses on the offensive line, the Cardinals have the schedule to make a run at a 12-0 record.
Louisville Cardinals 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 11-2 (5-2)
Spring practice dates: March 20-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 9
Passing: Teddy Bridgewater, 287 of 419, 3,718 yards, 27 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Senorise Perry, 136 car., 705 yards, 11 TDs
Receiving: Damian Copeland, 50 rec., 628 yards, 2 TDs
Tackles: Preston Brown, 109
Sacks: Lorenzo Mauldin, 4.5
Interceptions: Terell Floyd, 3
Redshirts to watch: LB Lamar Atkins, OL Sid Anvoots, OL Joe Manley, LB Nick Dawson, CB Devontre Parnell, QB Will Gardner
Early Enrollees to watch: DT Finesse Middleton, QB Brett Nelson
JUCO Transfers to watch: QB Brett Nelson
Aug. 31 Ohio
Sept. 7 Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 14 at Kentucky
Sept. 21 FIU
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 at Temple
Oct. 10 Rutgers
Oct. 18 UCF
Oct. 26 at South Florida
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 8 at Connecticut
Nov. 16 Houston
Nov. 23 Memphis
Nov. 30 Bye Week
Dec. 5 at Cincinnati
Offensive Strength: The Cardinals are led by one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in junior Teddy Bridgewater, and the receiving corps is deep with options, including first-team All-Big East selection DeVante Parker.
Offensive Weakness: Coordinator Shawn Watson has two big concerns this spring: Offensive line and running back. Louisville must replace its top two linemen from last year, while running back Senorise Perry is coming off a torn ACL.
Defensive Strength: With nearly everyone returning, the Cardinals should have one of the Big East’s top defenses in 2013. The front seven is in great shape, led by linebacker Preston Brown and defensive end Marcus Smith.
Defensive Weakness: The secondary ranked 16th nationally against the pass last season, but cornerback Adrian Bushell expired his eligibility after the Sugar Bowl, which leaves a significant question mark at one corner spot.
Spring Storylines Facing the Cardinals
1. Sorting out the running backs. Even though Jeremy Wright left Louisville after the Sugar Bowl win against Florida, the Cardinals’ backfield is in relatively good shape. Senorise Perry rushed for 705 yards and 11 touchdowns before tearing an ACL, and Dominique Brown redshirted last season after rushing for 533 yards in 2011. There’s not a ton of depth at this position, and Perry is expected to sit out spring practice as he continues to recover from his knee injury. Sophomore Corvin Lamb has played sparingly in his first two years on campus but is expected to get an opportunity to work his way into the rotation this spring. With Perry on the sidelines, this is a big spring for Battle and Lamb to solidify their spots in the rotation.
2. Finding replacements on the offensive line. Keeping quarterback Teddy Bridgewater away from defensive linemen is the top priority for Louisville in 2013. Bridgewater was banged up at the end of 2012, and any shot the Cardinals have of playing for a national title will depend on the health of their junior signal-caller. Considering the line allowed 2.4 sacks a game last season and must replace its two best players – center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper – there’s plenty of concern about this unit going into spring practice. John Miller and Jake Smith should anchor the guard spots, while Kamron Joyer and Mike Romano (out until the fall) will battle to start at center. Junior Jamon Brown returns to right tackle after starting all 13 games last year. Massive sophomore Abraham Garcia (6-foot-6, 345 pounds) is the early frontrunner to replace Kupper at left tackle, and his development will be crucial, especially since he is tasked with protecting Bridgewater’s blindside.
3. Replacing Adrian Bushell at cornerback. The Cardinals have nearly everyone coming back on defense, but cornerback Adrian Bushell expired his eligibility after the Sugar Bowl. The Texas native played only two years at Louisville but made a huge impact on the secondary and was picked as a back-to-back first-team All-Big East selection. The Cardinals have experience returning at the cornerback spot, so there should be a relatively smooth transition for the secondary. Terell Floyd will man one corner spot, after starting 10 games last season and recording three interceptions. Replacing Bushell is expected to be junior Andrew Johnson or redshirt freshman Devontre Parnell. Johnson played in 12 games and recorded 26 tackles for Louisville last season. Losing Bushell is a huge blow, but the Cardinals should be able to withstand his departure, provided Johnson or Parnell emerges as a solid starter. And helping the cornerbacks ease their transition will be All-Big East safeties Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith.
4. Fixing the special teams. Louisville’s special teams struggled mightily at times last season, so expect this unit to receive plenty of attention in the spring. The Cardinals ranked 119th nationally in net punting (38.1 yards per punt) and finished near the bottom of college football in punt and kickoff returns. Kicker John Wallace made 16 of his 21 attempts last year, so field goals aren’t a concern. However, finding answers for a struggling return game, along with improving their net punting will be a priority for coach Charlie Strong.
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