2012 Program Preview - Louisville

Can Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater live up with the hype in 2012? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

You could make the case that Louisville is now the class of the Big East, with West Virginia moving on and TCU opting out of joining. Charlie Strong came in and began recruiting Florida prospects to great success. The results began popping up in the second half last year after a dismal 2-4 start.

Standout QB Teddy Bridgewater flashed a top skill set while helping the Cardinals go 5-2 in conference play, including away wins over WVU and South Florida. Now a true sophomore, he could elevate the program back to the level it was at under Bobby Petrino.

After the jump, the prospects worth noting as well as some games and matchups to pencil into your calendar.

References

Card Chronicle (SBN Louisville community), SB Nation team page, official team site, Bill Connelly's preview for SBN, CBS Sports preview

Notable offensive prospects

Name POS Yr. Early projected Rd (notes)
Mario Benavides
C
RS Sr.
4
Dominique Brown RB
Jr.
UD
John Miller
G
Soph.
N/A
Teddy Bridgewater
QB
Soph. N/A
DeVante Parker
WR
Soph. N/A


Notable defensive prospects

Name POS Yr. Early projected Rd (notes)
Adrian Bushell
CB
RS Sr. UD
Daniel Brown OLB
RS Sr. UD
Hakeem Smith
SS
RS Jr. 4
Preston Brown ILB
Jr.
6
Marcus Smith DE
Jr.
UD
Andrew Johnson CB
Soph.
N/A
Calvin Pryor
FS
Soph.
N/A


Summary

The roster is bottom heavy, to be certain. Benavides is one of the best centers in the country, though. Aside from he and perhaps Hakeem Smith, there aren't any obvious 2013-eligible prospects that could creep into day two. Louisville is already loaded up with 24 prospects in tow for next year, but recruiting is a fluid process with calendar dates barely written in pencil. It is not the permanent pen-marked calendar of the NFL.

Still, at this time next year, we may be looking at a handful of day 2 options from Louisville's junior and sophomore classes.

Key games

Kentucky (home) - Week 1 (Sun., Sep. 2 - 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
North Carolina (home) - Week 3 (Sat., Sep. 15 - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

I lumped these together for given that they're the two of Louisville's first three games, all at home and all against non-conference opponents (Missouri State being the third). They follow that trio with three away games versus Florida International, Southern Miss and Pitt all in that order. And while FIU and Southern Miss are stronger members of their conference, Kentucky represents the SEC and is obviously a competitor in recruiting circles. Staying on recruiting, UNC has, like Louisville, dipped into the state of Florida's talent pool in recent years.

Moreover, this early stretch could well derail Louisville's chances at a BCS berth in everyone's least favorite acronym's penultimate year. If the Cardinals get off to a poor start similar to 2011, it will be very difficult to pull out of it and make a similar Big East run like last year.

Rutgers (home) - Week 14 (Thu., Nov. 29 - 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

If those games make up the meaningful opening of the season, this game most obviously is the coda. Louisville's final game of the season, the Rutgers game could define their season as a whole. If Big East supremacy looms at this stage, it could still be the case in late November.

Key matchups

C Mario Benavides v. UNC DT Sylvester Williams, Week 3 - Sat., Sep. 15

NFL-caliber matchup. Should be interesting matchup that pits Williams' power game against Benavides who is a bit more agile.

LBs Preston Brown, Daniel Brown & Deiontrez Mount v. FIU RB Kedrick Rhodes, Week 4 - Sat., Sep. 22
LBs Preston Brown, Daniel Brown & Deiontrez Mount v. Southern Miss RB Kendrick Hardy, Week 5 - Sat., Sep. 29

Two interesting run game matchups in back-to-back weeks here. On one hand, Rhodes put up a very impressive sophomore season for the Golden Panthers (why no, I don't want to talk about the UNT game...); on the other, FIU played a pretty weak schedule last year. In the two most difficult matchups against Louisville and Marshall in the Beef 'O' Brady's Apostrophe Bowl, Rhodes rushed 8 times for 16 yards and 10 times for 20 yards, respectively. If FIU wants to get back to the top of the Sun Belt, he'll need to improve on that.

Hardy, on the other hand, was off to a solid start in 2011. In the Golden Eagles' fifth game, Hardy suffered a broken collar bone after already having rushed for 172 yards; he missed the rest of the season. In his stead, Jamal Woodyard stepped up serviceably. He would suffer a knee injury late in the year, and will miss all of 2012. Hardy now is healthy by all accounts and has lost 11 pounds since the spring. He'll likely have to carry the load for Southern Miss early on, and that includes notable matchups against Nebraska and East Carolina before the Louisville game.

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