Head Coach: Bobby Petrino
2016 Record: 9-4 (7-1 ACC)
Over 9 wins (-152); Under 9 wins (+126)
Odds to win ACC Championship Game: +650
Odds to win 2017 Title: +4800
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The Louisville Cardinals lost a lot of key players, but the utmost key returns, Lamar Jackson. Jackson proved to be an unstoppable quarterback last season, and despite losing two starting lineman and three leading receivers, the Cardinals will not be falling off much—if any— this season. Jackson won the Heisman last season and will be only better after refining his pass game more over the offseason.
Jackson completed 56 percent of his passes last season and threw for 30 TDs with nine INTs. But, of course, it was his rushing that really set him a notch above the rest of the QBs in the NCAA, as he ran for over 1,500 yards with 21 rushing TDs. Teams simply had no answer for him when he held the ball himself, and even with the improvements in his pass game, expect Jackson to be rushing plenty this year again.
But, of course, it was his rushing that really set him a notch above the rest of the QBs in the NCAA, as he ran for over 1,500 yards with 21 rushing TDs. Teams simply had no answer for him when he held the ball himself, and even with the improvements in his pass game, expect Jackson to be rushing plenty this year again.
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Of course, how successful he will be at it largely depends on the offensive line, which again is an area of concern for the Cardinals. Louisville returns Lukayus McNeil, Geron Christian and Kenny Thomas, but all three had their struggles last year, so there is that. The OL has a new coach in Mike Summers, and he has a heady task in making sure that Jackson gets the protection (and holes) that can make him most effective. Former starting QB Reggie Bonnafon has plenty of talent and will be used at other positions so that
Former starting QB Reggie Bonnafon has plenty of talent and will be used at other positions so that the can still be a factor offensively. At WR, the Cardinals have several effective options, including Dez Fitzpatrick, Jaylen Smith, Traveon Samuel and Seth Dawkins. In the backfield, Jeremy Smith will be a bruiser and No. 1 option but expect Jackson and Bonnafon to take plenty of carries from him given their superiority overall.
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Defensively, the front seven will be a good bit different and Peter Sirmon is the new coordinator in charge of making it work. Chris Williams is one of the better pass disruptors, and he will see an increased role with James Hearns and Drew Bailey both doing their share as well (10 sacks between the pair in 2016). Trevon Young is a redshirt senior who had 8.5 sacks two seasons ago, and he has a clean bill of health this season.
Johnny Richardson has a huge task at defensive tackle in replacing the void left by DeAngelo Brown. Stacy Thomas is also vitally important at linebacker, while Amonte Caban is also an effective option at LB. The secondary will be comprised of Jaire Alexander, Trumaine Washington, Chucky Williams, P.J. Blue, Khane Pass, C.J. Avery and Lamarques Thomas. Avery and Thomas should be primed for bigger roles this season.
Jaire Alexander averaged 10.3 yards per punt return with a TD return last year. Samuel and Dawkins also are good return men. Kicker Blanton Creque hit 16 of 19 field goals and 39 of 40 extra points, while Mason King was good for 43.8 yards per punt last season. Special teams should be good for Louisville all the way around.
Overall, Louisville lost a lot of key players from last year’s team, but it is hard to be too bullish on the program given that it returns the Heisman award winner and probably the best NCAA quarterback in Jackson. He alone can keep Louisville competitive and also makes them the favorites in the ACC.
Can Louisville win more than last season’s nine games? That might be a taller task, but to see the Cardinals match last season’s win total should not really be all too surprising.
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