Fresh off a breakthrough season, the Louisville Cardinals figure to enter the 2013 season with plenty of hype, but more importantly with plenty of talent returning. Head coach Charlie Strong led the program to an 11-win season in 2012, including a Sugar Bowl win over Florida, which marked the first time the Cardinals won double-digit games in a season since 2006.
Thanks to that big year and the interest it earned him from other BCS conference schools, Strong received an eight-year extension worth $3.7 million per season, which makes him one of the country's highest-paid head coaches.
With that type of money comes pressure, and in the near-term at least, Strong should be able to deliver. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could develop into a serious Heisman contender in 2013, and the schedule Louisville faces is not what one would call daunting.
The Cardinals get Rutgers and Central Florida at home, and their only real road challenge should be a game at Cincinnati. When all is said and done, the Cardinals could be making their second consecutive BCS bowl appearance.
Spring practice start date: March 20.
Spring game date, location: April 13, Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Approximate returning starters: Card Chronicle has the roster breakdown for Louisville fans.
Seven starters on offense, 10 starters on defense. The headlining returnee is Bridgewater, who had a breakthrough sophomore campaign. He finished 2012 with 3,718 yards passing, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The team's top two rushers are back, as are their top two receivers. That includes DeVante Parker, who had 744 receiving yards and earned a first-team All-Big East nod.
Biggest addition: Wide receiver James Quick is a hometown product and a consensus four-star prospect, though he won't see the field in spring. He is considered by 247Sports to be 11th-best receiver and No. 109 overall prospect in the class of 2013.
Biggest loss: Louisville returns the majority of its key contributors, but the Cardinals will miss cornerback Adrian Bushell, who was a first-team All-Big East selection last season. Bushell finished the year fourth on the team with 61 tackles and he also picked off a pass. He served as the team's primary kickoff returner and averaged about 20 yards per return.
The Cardinals also must replace wide receiver Andrell Smith, who finished third on the team in receiving yardage with 536 yards on 34 receptions.
Transfers eligible to take the field for the Cardinals include former Auburn QB-turned-TE Zeke Pike and former Ohio State LB Jordan Whiting.
Three players enrolled for the spring semester: defensive end Finesse Middleton, quarterback Brett Nelson and cornerback. Middleton is a consensus three-star prospect and considered the No. 57 strongside defensive end in the class of 2013 by 247Sports. Nelson, a junior college transfer, is also a consensus three-star player as well as the No. 8 pro style QB in the class. Bailey is a transfer from Florida; he redshirted last season.
Those players will be able to participate in spring practice, while the rest of the class will enroll in time for the beginning of camp in August.
The Cardinals have not endured any staff changes at this point in the offseason.
With no coaching changes and much of last year's personnel returning, Louisville probably isn't going to look much different from a year ago. The Cardinals relied heavily on Bridgewater's arm because they struggled to run the football with consistency, so finding more balance may be a point of emphasis this offseason.