After Maryland’s departure to the Big Ten, the ACC maintained its 14-team setup by adding Louisville from the American Athletic Conference. The Cardinals were one of the top programs in the old Big East and went 23-3 over the last two years.
As with any team transitioning to a new conference, Louisville will face a new set of challenges, but this program is equipped to compete at a high level in the ACC.
The Cardinals return 11 starters from last year’s 12-1 team, including receiver DeVante Parker and linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. Parker caught 55 passes last season, while Mauldin recorded 9.5 sacks and will be a valuable pass rusher in new coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 approach.
Replacing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a huge challenge, but Louisville appears to be in good hands with Will Gardner. The Cardinals are also deep at the skill positions and have four starters back on the offensive line.
Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.
How Many Games Will Louisville Win in 2014?: Over/Under on 8.5
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’ll take the over. Sure, Louisville has some personnel concerns and is going through a transition on the conference and head coach side. But there’s still plenty of talent on the roster, and although schedule does have some challenging games, I think this team has more than enough returning to overcome those concerns. Bobby Petrino is one of the nation’s best coaches, and his return to Louisville should keep the Cardinals in the mix to win 10 games in 2014. Quarterback Will Gardner appears to be a capable replacement for Teddy Bridgewater, and he will have plenty of help at the skill positions from receiver DeVante Parker and running backs Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown. The Cardinals also return four starters on an improving offensive line. The defense is a bigger concern with the departure of Marcus Smith, Calvin Pryor, Preston Brown and Hakeem Smith. However, former coach Charlie Strong isn’t leaving the cupboard bare, especially with names like Sheldon Rankins, Keith Brown and Gerod Holliman ready to step up in 2014. On paper, road tests against Clemson and Notre Dame, along with a home date against Florida State will be the only games Louisville isn’t favored to win. If Gardner proves to be a capable replacement, and the defense adapts to Todd Grantham’s 3-4 approach, the Cardinals could push Clemson for the No. 2 spot in the Atlantic Division.
Mark Ennis, (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
After watching the way Will Gardner threw the ball in Louisville's spring game on Friday night, I'm much more optimistic about Louisville's chances to have a big first year in the ACC. It's never easy to replace a player like Teddy Bridgewater. Nevertheless, having receivers like DeVante Parker, James Quick, and Eli Rogers, a tight end like Gerald Christian, running backs Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer, and the entire offensive line returning should give Bobby Petrino a chance to put up a lot of points in 2014. Getting Miami, Florida State, NC State, and rival Kentucky at home should also cushion the landing in a much more difficult conference. Add to it that Petrino and company will get all summer to prepare for Miami, eight days to prepare for Clemson, and ten days to prepare for FSU, and I could see Louisville over an 8.5 win total.
Ethan Moore, (@LvilleSprtsLive), LouisvilleSportsLive.Net
I would take the under because Louisville will go through the toughest schedule in the history of its program. The Cards will travel to Clemson and Notre Dame and face a Syracuse team on the road returning a lot of experience. UofL opens the season against Miami at home and will welcome the defending champions in Florida State to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. With Petrino at the helm, the offense is sure to take off, but questions remain with a defense that will have to replace two veteran safeties. It wouldn't shock anyone to see UofL win 9 games, but given the schedule, coaching change, and replacing Bridgewater, that might be too much to ask.
Listen to our staff discuss every team in the ACC as Athlon starts to look to 2014.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The addition of Bobby Petrino more than makes up for the loss of Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor and a host of other talented players. The major step up in competition moving from the AAC to the ACC makes returning to double digit wins for a third straight season extremely difficult. That said, nine wins is well within reach in Petrino's first season. Games against Florida State (home), Notre Dame (road), Clemson (road) and Miami (home) appear to be the toughest tests on the slate, but road trips to Boston College, Syracuse and Virginia could be tricky as well. I will tentatively take the over with the season opener against the Hurricanes at home on Labor Day night as the most important swing game of the season. Should Louisville win that game, a 9-3 record is likely. If not, the under is a much better bet. I'll take emotion of the moment to play a huge role in the Cardinals win over The U on Sept. 1.
Related Content: Ranking the ACC Coaches for 2014
John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), NunesMagician.com
Louisville presents one of the more interesting "how will they finish?" cases in the country, if only because of all the change they're experiencing. No more Teddy Bridgewater and no more Charlie Strong means the on-field product will certainly be different. Plus the Cardinals move to the ACC, where the competition is considerably stronger top-to-bottom than what the AAC was last season. But despite the easy schedule and perception hits Louisville took in 2013, that 12-1 record was no joke (see: the 12th-place finish in combined F/+ ratings on Football Outsiders), and even with a new coach and quarterback, there's plenty of hope for similar success. They may not be at the same level as Florida State or Clemson within the Atlantic this year, but beyond that, the Cards should find themselves at least on par with the rest of the division. Still, I see at least three losses on the slate (FSU, Clemson, Notre Dame), and I wouldn't doubt a fourth from one of Miami or Syracuse. So I'll take the under, though 8-4 is far from a disappointment for Louisville this year, and is a nice stepping stone for future success in their new conference.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
As much as Louisville is built to be a competitive ACC program, the Cardinals may struggle early in the league. If the Cardinals were still in the American or even a league like the old Big East, the over would be a slam dunk. Give Bobby Petrino that offensive line, a solid run game and a game-breaking receiver, and he could win nine games in the American. But few teams take a step up in conference affiliation and maintain pace — think of West Virginia, TCU and Utah. With only four starters returning on defense and a new quarterback, hitting the nine-win mark will be tough. Let’s not forget that this was not always a dominant team in the American last season. The Cardinals beat Houston and Memphis by seven points at home and Cincinnati by seven on the road. And that was with Teddy Bridgewater.
Ryan Tice, (@RyanTice), TheWolfpacker.com
The changes in Louisville are numerous. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is off to the NFL, coach Charlie Strong is now in Texas and that’s just the beginning. Former Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino is back after the scandal at Arkansas, the school is now in the ACC and the defense is switching to a 3-4.
However, that’s not to say there aren’t some pieces in place for the offensive guru Petrino to work with. Will Gardner put up Bridgewater-like numbers in the spring game, Michael Dyer — who broke Bo Jackson’s freshman rushing record at Auburn in 2010 — should form a solid combination with last year’s leading rusher, Dominique Brown, and DeVante Parker is back out wide after he hauled in 885 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. The margin of error might be thin, but don’t forget how great that defense was last year. They return just four starters on that side of the ball, but when combined with their offense and that schedule, I’m taking the over.
Bobby Petrino should enjoy a fair amount of success in his return as Louisville's head coach, but I certainly hope fans don't have visions of another 12-1 season in mind. Not only are the Cardinals making the transition from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC, unquestionably a much tougher, more competitive league, they have to begin the post-Teddy Bridgewater era with unproven Will Gardner under center. Charlie Strong didn't leave Petrino with a bare cupboard by any means, but there's no Connecticut, Memphis, Rutgers or Temple on the schedule this fall either. Instead, Petrino and the Cardinals open things by hosting Miami and also will welcome defending national champion Florida State to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in late October. These two games along with road dates against Clemson and Notre Dame are enough reasons to cap Louisville's regular-season win total at eight games. Throw in swing games at Syracuse and the finale against in-state rival Kentucky and I would consider 7-5 a respectable second start, if you will, for Petrino.
Matt McClusky, (@MatthewMcClusky), NunesMagician.com
You know why people say the expression "history often repeats itself"? Because...history often repeats itself! I mean, look at the Louisville, for example. Go back to the early aughts, a program led by the next "It" coach riding a wave of success from Conference USA to the Big East. Then, well, Bobby Petrino bolted and Steve Kragthorpe happened and the Cardinals football program slid right off the map.
Now? The man that led U of L back to relevancy post Steve Kragthrope has himself bolted for bigger and better things just in time for another massive conference jump for the Cardinals. Sound familiar? And, irony of ironies, Petrino is back at the helm for Louisville. Actually, the real wonder here is which history is going to repeat? The tank-dive the Cardinals did in the new Big East with a new coach or will they thrive having the football-brilliant, commonsense-less Petrino leading the charge like he did back a few years ago? Losing Charlie Strong to Texas is detrimental, but my guess is having Petrino back "home" will likely be the saving grace to avoiding any Kragthrorpian slide to the dark depths of college football.
But we'll find out a lot about this Cardinals program right away. Game one of Year One, ACC will be the most pivotal: beat Miami and 9 to 10 wins is more than feasible; lose the opener against the Canes and 6 to 7 wins may be more realistic. Of course, catching Miami so early, at home nonetheless, coupled with the excitement surrounding Petrino's re-debut, will be the reason the Cardinals win their ACC coming-out party.
And from that point forward, with Will Gardner doing his best to replace Teddy Bridgewater, and a new defensive scheme designed to handle the Clemsons and Florida States of the world, U of L will whittle its way to nine wins, beating hated rival Kentucky to cinch the over on 8.5 wins. Actually, taking FSU out of the equation, it's not a bad time for Louisville to be jumping into the ACC, seeing as how there will be a lot of change surrounding a number of programs. Nine or more wins won't be easy, but with the foundation seemingly much more solid, there's no reason to think Louisville won't be every bit as competitive as it has been over the last few seasons.
You see, expressions are expressions for a reason: there's truth in them. And everything old in Louisville this season will once again be new, especially the winning, that never gets old.