Gone is Lamar Jackson, but head coach Bobby Petrino will be able to count on an experienced offensive line and a talented group of receivers.
Louisville's most significant question is on defense, as the Cardinals have a new coordinator and must replace nine starters. Brian VanGorder does have linebacker Dorian Etheridge, who posted 83 tackles as a true freshman, to build around.
So how will the post-Lamar Jackson era go for the Cardinals this upcoming season? Athlon asked a few editors and college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Louisville in 2018.
Louisville Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Sorting out the Atlantic Division after Clemson, Florida State and NC State might be the toughest part of the ACC predictions for 2018. There’s not much separation between Boston College, Wake Forest and Louisville, while Syracuse should be better in coach Dino Babers’ third season. The Cardinals have to replace quarterback Lamar Jackson, but the offense should still rank among the best in the ACC. Sophomore quarterback Jawon Pass (above, right) is a breakout candidate, and he’s supported by one of the league’s top receiving corps.
Defense is coach Bobby Petrino’s biggest concern once again. Louisville gave up 33.4 points and 6.4 yards a play in ACC contests last season and returns only two starters. New coordinator Brian VanGorder has a few pieces to work with, including linebacker Dorian Etheridge and end Jon Greenard. However, major question marks remain at all three levels. With road trips to Syracuse and Virginia, a 6-6 finish isn’t out of the question. However, I’ll take the optimistic view and gamble that Petrino’s team gets to 7-5.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
As with the case with a lot of teams in the ACC, Louisville's schedule is loaded with swing games. If this team gets good quarterback play (confident that will happen) and improves on defense (less confident), Louisville could easily be the third-best team in the division behind Clemson and Florida State. If not, a last-place finish isn't out the question. The Cards only play three games in October -- Georgia Tech and Wake sandwiched around a trip to Boston College. It feels like that stretch will define the season.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Let us all take the time to remember just how great of a college football player Lamar Jackson was. Now think about having to replace him. No biggie, eh? While there's bound to be some growing pains with Jawon Pass behind center (especially in the opener), there's enough talent on the roster to be a pesky thorn in the ACC this year. While it may not be enough to compete with the Clemsons of the world, it can keep the Cardinals afloat as they look ahead to 2019.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
There's no denying Bobby Petrino is one of the best head coaches in the nation. But 2018 will arguably be his toughest coaching job since returning to the school. The Cardinals relied so much on Lamar Jackson as he was not only their leading passer but rusher as well.
Louisville has enormous holes defensively, and there's a new coordinator for that side of the ball. The Cardinals also will feature a young secondary that will undoubtedly have at least three new starters.
Louisville was picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic, but I can see the Cardinals battling Syracuse for last place. Wake Forest is an up-and-coming team that surprised many last season and Boston College could be the sleeper team in the entire ACC. And of course Louisville won't be better than Clemson, Florida State or NC State.
It could be a long season for the Cardinals, thanks to a difficult schedule.