Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: Team #25 Louisville Cardinals

LouisvilleThe 2014 campaign for the Louisville Cardinals was all about new beginnings. The Cards welcomed back embattled head coach Bobby Petrino after a seven year absence from the sidelines of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium & his first year back was Louisville’s first year in a new conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference. I think expectations were a mixed bag heading into last season as most people had faith in Petrino as a coach but not in the upgrade in competition of a new conference. Thirteen games later it is pretty safe to say that the Cardinals belong in the ACC. Nine wins and only narrow losses to top contenders to Clemson and Florida State proved that the Louisville Cardinals will be a force to reckon with in the ACC Atlantic.

Will Gardner Louisville 2
Junior Quarterback Will Gardner

Louisville heads into the 2015 season with only nine returning starters but Charlie Strong didn’t leave the cupboard bare for Petrino and company. Offensively, the Cardinals return most of their skill position guys including their leading rusher from a year ago and starting quarterback Will Gardner who missed most of the second half of the season with a broken foot. Louisville only returns two offensive lineman from last season but junior Center Tobijah Hughley will anchor the line and keep defenders off of the quarterback. Speaking of the quarterback position, despite injuries at the position last year, every guy that Coach Petrino tossed into the game performed well so I expect there to be a pretty good quarterback competition for the starting job between junior Will Gardner, sophomore Reggie Bonnafon, sophomore Kyle Bolin, Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson and freshman Lamar Jackson. I’ve got my money on Bonnafon.

Defensively, the Cardinals will be pretty good again. They only allowed 21 points per game last season but allowed over 200 yards passing per game for the first time in three seasons. Louisville only returns four starters from last year’s defense but three of those four recorded 50 tackles or more a season ago. Anchored by two big defensive ends, the defensive line will be a force to be reckoned with if they can keep offensive

lineman off a very talented linebacking corps led by junior Keith Kelsey who had 87 tackles in 2014. The secondary will be the big question mark for the Cardinals as there will be three sophomores and one junior starting the season but will include two familiar names in this part of the country. Right now Shaq Wiggins & Josh Harvey-Clemons are penciled in as the starters at cornerback and safety. They aren’t returning starters but they have had plenty of playing experience in their careers so far.

Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino
Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino

The schedule works out pretty well for Louisville but has an interesting start. The Cardinals open the season in Atlanta against many prognosticators’ national championship pick, the Auburn Tigers. This will be an early season test for Louisville who must turn around and play an underrated Houston team at home followed by a Thursday night showdown with the Clemson Tigers in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. This was a neck-in-neck game last season but Clemson was without Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Give these two teams healthy quarterbacks, then sit back and watch the fireworks. Three road games in October won’t be a cake walk as Louisville will have a bye week between road trips to Raleigh to take on an improved NC State team and down to Tallahassee to face the reigning three time ACC Champion Florida State Seminoles. Then a home game against Boston College followed by short week road game in Winston Salem against Wake Forest on  Friday night. The key for Louisville’s season will be to get to November with a decent record because November is much easier than the first two months of the season. Back-to-back home games against Syracuse and Virginia followed by two road games at Pittsburgh and in-state rival Kentucky to close out the regular season.

Louisville proved last season that they can compete in the ACC but in year two they will have to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. I don’t expect the offense to take any steps backwards with Petrino at the helm with a handful of capable quarterbacks but it wouldn’t surprise me if the defense has trouble getting off the field. The schedule isn’t terrible but it won’t be easy for this team either. Louisville will be as athletic as any team in the league in 2015 but whether that will translate into wins has yet to be seen. The Cardinals won’t win the ACC Atlantic but they may just keep someone from winning the division in 2015 and that just sounds like a Petrino thing to do.

Papa John's Cardinal Stadium - Capacity: 55,000
Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium – Capacity: 55,000

2015 Louisville Cardinals Schedule

Sept 5th          v. Auburn (In Atlanta)
Sept 12th        v. Houston
Sept 17th        v. Clemson (Thursday)
Sept 26th       v. Samford
Oct 3rd           at NC State
Oct 10th         BYE WEEK
Oct 17th          at Florida State
Oct 24th         v. Boston College
Oct 30th         at Wake Forest (Friday)
Nov 7th          v. Syracuse
Nov 14th        v. Virginia
Nov 21st         at Pittsburgh
Nov 28th       at Kentucky


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