2011 Record: 7-6 overall, 5-2 Big East
2011 Bowl Game: 24-31 loss vs. NC State @ Belk Bowl
Head Coach: Charlie Strong
Odds to win Big East: +180 (Favorite)
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There’s a lot of reasons to expect Louisville to win the Big East, but at the top of that list of reasons is QB Teddy Bridgewater, who is recognized as one of the best true freshman quarterbacks in the nation. He completed 64.5% of his passes last year and threw 14 TDs while also running for four TDs, as well. He’s a strong and gifted quarterback and will be the main reason Louisville will win the Big East this year.
It gets even better when you look at Bridgewater’s targets. He had a few prime candidates to throw the ball to: Eli Rogers, Michaelee Harris, and DeVante Parker. Rogers is nearly impossible for defensive backs to keep in check while Harris’ great hands make him an excellent receiver as well. Parker is 6’3″ and has great goal line potential with his ability to raise up against smaller defenders and grab balls in crowds. Six of his 18 receptions last year were for TDs. Also, Scott Radcliff led the spring game with nine catches for 119 yds.
The next task for the Cards will be choosing who is going to be the primary ball carrier. There are four options at back: Dominique Brown, Jeremy Wright, Corvin Lamb, and Senorise Perry. Perry had the nicest spring of those options, and will be the candidate most likely to assume the job of doing the lion’s share of running for Louisville. It is also helpful that they return four offensive lineman, including the tough and tenacious Mario Benavides, who is entering his senior season.
Coach Charlie Strong was not pleased with the Cards’ defense last year, which says a lot since they ranked 10th in the nation at controlling the run. This really says more about what he expects than what they didn’t do. Roy Philon and Brandon Dunn are both going to be strong in the middle and Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin are good pashing rushing defensive ends who should be able to wreak havoc on opposing QBs.
The biggest loss to the defense will be that of Dexter Heyman, who led the team in tackles, tackles for a loss, and interceptions, while also being the team leader on defense. Preston and Daniel Brown (no relation) have both been developing nicely over the last two seasons and their continued improvement will prove to be instrumental. Strong won’t hesitate to plug freshman into the rotation either, and their highly prized recruits Keith Brown, James Burgess Jr., and Nick Dawson are all going to see some burn this year.
The secondary could use some work though, as strong safety Hakeem Smith is not as adept at forcing turnovers as he could be, despite being one of the team’s top tacklers. That’s been a problem for the Cards, in general: they intercepted only 10 passes last year and 7 of those were from the secondary. Corner Adrian Bushell is the best for pass coverage, but the Cards gave up 20 passing TDs last year and ranked 68th in the Nation in pass coverage, which could potentially mitigate all other strengths they have defensively and keep them from being a top tier team, despite being favored to win the conference.
Rogers and Radcliff were the two punt returners last year, but Bushell is likely to be the primary return specialist because he has a higher ceiling and more potential for big plays. He returned a kickoff 100 yards in 2012. They will determine their punter in fall camp. John Wallace nailed a 52 yard field goal in the spring game.
This could be a ten win team. Bridgewater will make that possiblity very real for Cards fans and his talented cast of receivers will make him look even better than we already know he is. L-ville will face some strong non-conference opponents in Kentucky and UNC, while WVU leaving the Big East only further solidifies the chances of the Cards winning the conference.
Strong didn’t want expectations too high, but was quick to remind people that many analysts predicted an 8th place finish for the team last year.
This year there will be no element of surprise. The only thing that could keep this team from playing a BCS game is a slew of injuries, and that’s never predicatable, so expect the Cards to be garnering a lot of national attention this year as they are projected by Athlon magazine to go 10-2 and post a 5-2 in conference record.