Head coach: Bobby Petrino
2014 Record: 9-4; 5-3 ACC
2014 Bowl: 37-14 loss to Georgia at Belk Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 3 offense, 4 defense
Odds to win 2016 CFB Championship: +16500
Odds to win 2015 ACC Title: +1300
Regular Season Wins: Over 7 (-135), Under 7 (+105)
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The Louisville Cardinals have a QB controversy but are expected to be at least competitive given the coaching of Bobby Petrino.
Bobby Petrino will look at five different options at QB this season: Will Gardner, Reggie Bonnafon, Kyle Bolin, Tyler Ferguson and Lamar Jackson.
Bonnafon is the most athletic and could be the biggest playmaker, but his youth comes with inexperience. He’s likely the favorite for the job, but there’s cases to be made for others.
Gardner has thrown 1,669 yards on 221 attempts with 12 TDs and 3 INTs. Bonnafon has thrown 864 yards on 120 attempts with 5 TDs and 4 INTs. Bolin enters the conversation to the tune of 716 yards on 78 attempts with 4 TDs and 3 INTs.
Ferguson for Penn State last year threw 10 of 15 for 155 yards but was sacked just once and also led the group in yards per passing attempt (9.1). Lamar Jackson is a 4-star recruit on Rivals and rates higher than all other prospects on that billing, and he is a 6’2” 195 pound freshman.
Louisville lost its top three receivers from last season, but will seek to run the ball plenty with Brandon Radcliff getting the majority of the snaps. He averaged 97 yards per game over the Cards final three games vs. Notre Dame, Kentucky and Georgia.
L.J. Scott and Jeremy Smith will get touches too, while Malin Jones comes in from Northwestern to also be in the mix for carries.
The WR hole is more complex.
James Quick came in as a five-star recruit but hasn’t yet fulfilled much of that potential. He dropped the ball a lot and was a headache off the field. Two big transfers come at at WR though in Ja’Quay Savage of Texas A&M and Jamari Staples of UAB. Staples had 458 yards and four TDs for UAB last season. TE Keith Towbridge will get the full-time duty now with Gerald Christian out of the picture.
The OL will grow this season but isn’t really ready. C Tobijah Hughley will start after earning the position as a walk-on, and Aaron Epps will solidify the right side as a great run blocker. The problem is that the OL is going to really bite off more than it can chew when it comes to its matchups against Auburn (Sept 5) and Clemson (Sept 17).
The Cardinals were strong last year because of its defense, but it returns only four starters from that unit. The front seven is still strong overall, especially with DE Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei as very good stoppers of the run that can both apply intense pass pressure.
Devonte Fields will be a monster. He was cleared to play at Louisville last week and the No. 2 rated JUCO recruit from Trinity Valley CC a year ago is ready to be a big impact player again. Fields was a former Big 12 DPOY while he was at TCU.
The Cardinals are also awaiting clearance on freshman James Allen and Chandler Jones.
At LB James Burgess, Keith Kelsey and Keith Brown all come with high billing. They have some play under their belts now and are expected to make major gains this season.
The secondary is a lot sketchier, but Petrino isn’t overly disconcerted with its lack of experience together, especially since S Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins bring a lot of experience after joining the team following dismissal from Georgia. Harvey-Clemons is talented enough to be a first round draft pick. Cornelius Sturghill, Chucky Williams and Zykiesis Cannon round out the secondary rotation.
Senior placekicker John Wallace can make school history this year if he knocks 10 FGs in and Josh Appleby will assume the punting duties after three seasons of being groomed for the role. The returns were not a strength of the Cardinals last season, but Staples will handle punts and Williams will take on kickoff duties. That tandem could vault the Cardinals back into the better special teams in the ACC.
Louisville has a decision to make with its QB, and that really isn’t something that can be held against it because Petrino will find a way to make at least one of them work. That’s a safe bet. What is less safer is the prospect that the Cardinals will seamlessly transition defensively where it returns little of its strong unit in 2014.
This team will be a lot easier to get a read on after we see which QB it is, and how good that option develops, but maybe that’s even too obvious to say. With the uncertainty surrounding this team’s QB it’s difficult to get much higher on it than the 7-win mark set as the O/U on 5dimes.
Prediction: 7 wins