The college football season bears ever closer with fall camps in full swing. Looking ahead towards opening kickoff, we continue the Rant Sports 100 in 100 countdown with No. 22, the Louisville Cardinals.
2011 Record: (7-6, 5-2 in Big East)
Head Coach: Charlie Strong (14-12, 8-6 in Big East)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Belk Bowl: Lost to NC State 31-24
After exceeding expectations in 2011, the Cardinals are the Big East favorites in 2012. How will they handle the pressure?
Offense: QB Teddy Bridgewater (14 TD, 12 INT), RB Dominique Brown (533 yds rush), WR Eli Rogers (41 rec), WR Michaelee Harris (35 rec), C Mario Benavides
Of this group, the pressure falls squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. If he can be the dynamic playmaker he is advertised as, Louisville is going to put points on the scoreboard in the Big East. Here is some of what is being said about the Cardinals signal caller:
AP Sports: “A lot of times when guys have had success so early, they get so full of themselves that they don’t want to listen,” Charlie Strong said. “Teddy, he can still develop and get better. But he wants it — he wants to be coached.” Strong singled out the play of defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin but the sophomore said he was no match for Bridgewater’s elusiveness. “Teddy Bridgewater is, as they say, Houdini,” Mauldin said. “When I run after him I know I’m not going to catch him.” With only nine seniors, Mauldin said Bridgewater is rightfully the focal point of the program. “Teddy deserves to be the face of this team, really, because he is a remarkable athlete,” Mauldin said.
Defense: S Hakeem Smith (84 tackles), LB Preston Brown (84 tackles), CB Adrian Bushell (50 tackles), DE Marcus Smith (5.5 sacks), S Calvin Pryor (43 tackles, 2 INT), LB Daniel Brown (39 tackles)
Led by the defensive minded Charlie Strong, Louisville is looking to improve on this side of the football in 2012. As Strong is able to put a full complement of his defensive recruits on the field, results should follow. While the group should be proud of holding opponents to just 20.1 ppg last season – second in the Big East – that number masked some underlying issues that must be addressed for consistent dominance. Most importantly, Louisville allowed opponents to convert over 38% of third downs last season. If that number doesn’t improve, Teddy Bridgewater and potentially explosive offense will be kept on the sidelines for chunks of clock.
Schedule: Kentucky (9/2), Missouri State (9/8), North Carolina (9/15), @FIU (9/22), @Southern Miss (9/29), @Pitt (10/13), USF (10/20), Cincinnati (10/26), Temple (11/3), at Syracuse (11/10), Connecticut (11/24), at Rutgers (11/29)
While not overwhelming – it’s hard to find a Big East slate that is – Louisville’s schedule provides a challenge. Three straight home games to start the season should lead to a hot start for the Top 25 squad, but a regression to the mean could come quickly. Three consecutive road games — @FIU, @Southern Miss, and @Pitt – are all winnable, but come with a scheduling quirk that adds to the degree of difficulty. If they can get through the first six weeks unscathed, a showdown with USF at home on 10/20 could decide the fate of the Big East.
Biggest question: Can Louisville handle pressure and play with maturity?
There’s no questioning the young talent in Louisville, but will it translate into consistency? Time will tell. The Big East is wide open in 2012. While a 9-3 or 10-2 season isn’t out of the question for this group, don’t be shocked if we “only” see an 8-4 finish from the team that calls Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium home.
Joe is also the host of Charm City Sports Talk on WNST.net in Baltimore and member of the Society of American Baseball Research.