Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 7 Louisville Cardinals

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Crystal LoGiudice, USA TODAY SPORTS

The Louisville Cardinals check in at No. 7 in the Rant Sports Top 100 College Football Rankings, hoping to build on the momentum gained from last season, and to perhaps contend for a national title.

Head coach Charlie Strong has turned the Louisville program around since taking the helm in the Derby City four years ago. The Cardinals went 11-2 last season, culminating with a 33-23 Sugar Bowl victory over the Florida Gators.

Louisville is expecting big things this season. The Cardinals could go undefeated, and may very well find themselves in the mix for the BCS Championship Game if teams in front of them take a tumble in the polls.

Offense

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Last season, Bridgewater passed for 3,718 yards, while completing 68.5 percent of his passes. The Cardinal signal caller also threw for 27 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. Bridgewater, a junior this season, burst onto the scene two years ago, and he has held the starting job ever since. In what could be his last season at U of L, Bridgewater will be looking for big things, individually and with his team.

The running game got a boost recently when Strong agreed to take Michael Dyer as a transfer. Dyer was the MVP of the BCS Championship Game when he was a member of the Auburn Tigers in 2010. Dyer could be the featured back for the Cards, while Senorise Perry and Dominique Brown are also capable backs.

Bridgewater will have a strong group of receivers to throw to this season. DeVante Parker had 744 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns last year, while Damian Copeland had 628 yards receiving and a pair of scores. True freshman James Quick, out of powerhouse Louisville Trinity High School, should also contribute this season.

The offensive line also returns three starters, including 6-foot-6, 340-pound left tackle Jamon Brown. John Miller and Jake Smith, who will make the move to center this season, also return on the line for UL.

Defense

Strong built his reputation on defense, and this year’s Louisville squad should be outstanding on that side of the ball. The Cardinals return nine starters on defense this season, and this could be the unit that helps U of L go undefeated in the regular season.

The top three tacklers from last season’s team are all back for the 2013 campaign. Senior middle linebacker Preston Brown led the Cards with 109 tackles last season, while safeties Calvin Pryor (100 tackles) and Hakeem Smith (73) also bolster the strong defensive unit.

Defensive tackle Roy Philon anchors the defensive line, along with ends Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin, and the other tackle, Jamaine Brooks. All four of those players are returning starters, and that unit should be able to pressure opposing quarterbacks all season long.

Schedule

The U of L schedule is a subject that has been discussed quite often lately. If the Cardinals are to compete for a national championship this season, they will definitely have to go undefeated against what is perceived to be a fairly week slate.

Louisville opens against Ohio University and Eastern Kentucky before visiting the Kentucky Wildcats. U of L then hosts Florida International and the Temple Owls.

The toughest stretch in the schedule comes next, as Louisville hosts the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Central Florida. U of L then visits the South Florida Bulls.

From there, Louisville visits the UConn Huskies, hosts the Houston Cougars and the Memphis Tigers before a season finale at the Cincinnati Bearcats.

The schedule does not offer the Cardinals many (or any) opportunities to face a top-notch opponent. Strong and his team will need to hope for many losses to the teams in front of them in the polls if the Cardinals are to compete for a bid in the BCS National Championship Game.

This could be the best Louisville team in years, and fans in the Derby City are hoping to add a BCS National Championship to the basketball national title won by the Cardinals earlier this year.

Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.