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1. Bobby Petrino certainly knows how to work with new teams
The coaching profession requires a set of skills so diverse that no human being is capable of being good at everything. You are one part politician, one part tactician, one part car salesman, one part player talent scout, one part coach talent scout, and about three parts chief executive officer. The best coaches are good at a lot, but not even a Nick Saban or Urban Meyer is good at everything.
If you're good in one or two categories, it can look like a sociopathic lack of skill in another category. But you can still succeed despite your weaknesses, because everybody's got weaknesses.
Bobby Petrino has not passed too many PR tests. His ambition led him to alienate fan bases even while racking up wins. Everywhere he has gone so far, he has put up serious point totals while interviewing for his next position.
Yet, he keeps getting good jobs. That's how skilled he is at putting talent in the right place, via any means deemed legal. He infuriated the Louisville fan base (and administration) with his constant wandering eye when he was head coach from 2003-06, but eight years later, he was welcomed back with open arms. And he immediately began to win.
In 2013, with Teddy Bridgewater behind center, Charlie Strong's last Louisville squad ranked 47th in Off. S&P+; in 2014, with a rotating cast of characters, some injured, some true freshmen, Petrino's first squad ranked 49th. An excellent defense held steady as well, and despite a major strength of schedule upgrade as Louisville went from the AAC to the ACC, the Cardinals won nine games.
In Petrino's 10 seasons as a college head coach, he's won at least eight games nine times. He inherited a disheveled mess at Arkansas, went 5-7, then went 29-10 in the next three years. He inherited Willie Taggart's manball personnel at Western Kentucky, cranked up the passing yards, and went 8-4. And he went 9-4 with Charlie Strong's leftovers. He has gotten used to succeeding, and he's gotten used to quickly finding a groove. (That's a polite way of calling someone a job-hopper, isn't it?)
It's that last skill that might matter most. Louisville does return most of last year's pu-pu platter of quarterbacks, its leading rusher, and most of the defensive front seven. But the Cardinals will also be replacing most of their offensive line, their receiving corps, and, most worrisome, their dynamite secondary.
Petrino has gone to great lengths to assure there's minimal drop-off, even if it means furthering his iffy PR with character risks. Louisville has become Transfer Central over the last 18 months, bringing in transfers (both of the voluntary and "got kicked out of their last school" varieties) from Georgia, Texas A&M, TCU, Penn State, Northwestern, UAB, and a few JUCOs. If chemistry, continuity, and potential character don't matter -- and they don't seem to matter as much for Petrino teams as others -- then the Cardinals have enough to contend for the ACC Atlantic crown. But if there's any sort of breaking-in period, this could end up another eight- or nine-win campaign.
Petrino is attempting to pull off a magic act, plugging holes with quick fixes and hoping he isn't bitten by either a lack of chemistry in the short term or a lack of continuity in the long term. But we know Petrino a) tends to only care about the next 12 games on the schedule, and b) knows how to make pieces work in a short amount of time. If anybody can pull this off, it is him.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 23|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|20-Sep||at Florida International||96||34-3||W||96%||40.7||100%|
|8-Nov||at Boston College||36||38-19||W||93%||33.8||99%|
|22-Nov||at Notre Dame||34||31-28||W||57%||4.4||43%|
|Points Per Game||31.2||53||21.8||23|
2. Super middleweights
Louisville lost an incredible quarterback in Bridgewater and had almost no experience in reserve; that the Cardinals pulled off a No. 23 F/+ ranking was impressive no matter what. Petrino and his staff were able to coax out most of the Cardinals' potential, but their limitations were obvious against good teams.
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 25): 60% (record: 0-3 | avg. score: Opp 34, UL 21)
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. No. 26-50): 71% (record: 3-1 | avg. score: UL 30, Opp 18)
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. No. 51-plus): 81% (record: 6-0 | avg. score: UL 37, Opp 16)
Against Clemson (No. 2 in Def. S&P+) and Georgia (No. 17), the Cardinals had little to offer offensively, averaging 15.5 points per game and 4.6 yards per play. And against the Georgia (No. 6 in Off. S&P+) and FSU (No. 16) offenses, the defense caved, allowing 39.5 points per game and 6.9 yards per play.
The UL defense played so well against Clemson that the Cardinals were unlucky to lose, and there were plenty of funky bounces (in both directions) in the FSU game, but the Cards were overmatched against UGA, and that's not something you could say against teams outside of the FBS' top quartile.
This year's team could have more upside and more instability, which makes this set of best-against-worst outcomes less likely.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.2%||94||Succ. Rt. +||104.7||51|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||32.0||107||Def. FP+||95.0||117|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||43||Redzone S&P+||118.4||25|
|Q1 Rk||25||1st Down Rk||69|
|Q2 Rk||45||2nd Down Rk||39|
|Q3 Rk||76||3rd Down Rk||36|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Will Gardner||6'5, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8543||127||221||1669||12||3||57.5%||13||5.6%||6.6|
|Reggie Bonnafon||6'3, 209||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8801||61||120||864||5||4||50.8%||22||15.5%||5.0|
|Kyle Bolin||6'2, 208||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8919||45||78||716||4||3||57.7%||4||4.9%||8.3|
|6'4, 217||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8383||10||15||155||1||0||66.7%||1||6.3%||9.1|
|Lamar Jackson||6'2, 195||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8788|
3. Signs you have a young QB:
Will Gardner threw 12 passes as Bridgewater's backup in 2013. Still, going from Bridgewater's incredible play -- and here's your reminder that he completed 71 percent of his passes with 31 TDs to 4 INTs in 2013 -- to basically a sophomore (Gardner) and two freshmen (Reggie Bonnafon, Kyle Bolin) was going to strip any and all consistency.
Louisville had to bail itself out with big plays, and thanks to players like DeVante Parker (who missed a good portion of the season with injury) and James Quick, that worked sometimes. But the Cardinals fell into passing downs a little too frequently and stunk when leveraged into such downs. Such is life with a young guy behind center.
Gardner dealt with injury for much of the year, and Kyle Bolin didn't get a shot until late in the year, but let's go to the tale of the tape:
- Completion Rate: Bolin 57.7%, Gardner 57.5%, Bonnafon 50.8%
- Yards Per Completion: Bolin 15.9, Bonnafon 14.2, Gardner 13.1
- INT Rate: Gardner 1.4%, Bonnafon 3.3%, Bolin 3.8%
- Sack Rate: Bolin 4.9%, Gardner 5.6%, Bonnafon 15.5%
- Yards per (non-sack) carry: Bonnafon 6.3, Bolin 2.4, Gardner 1.0
- Yards per run/pass attempt: Bolin 7.8, Gardner 6.4, Bonnafon 5.4.
That Bonnafon struggled makes sense because he was the youngest of the three. He showed all of the negative traits of a young guy with a cannon and good legs. He took too many sacks, didn't throw enough balls away, and made too many risky passes, but the upside was tantalizing.
Bolin was also a risk-and-reward guy, albeit a more successful one. He torched Kentucky in the regular season finale before struggling a bit against Georgia, but his raw numbers were exciting.
Gardner was the most collected. He was horrendous against Virginia (14-for-34, two picks, 89.4 passer rating), but in his other seven outings, he completed 60 percent with 10 touchdowns to one pick.
Because of potential, Bonnafon seemed to stay ahead of Bolin this spring, but Gardner will likely return for fall camp, so who the hell knows? All three might play. But they'll all be more experienced, at least.
|Brandon Radcliff||RB||5'9, 214||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8410||144||737||12||5.1||4.0||42.4%||3||1|
|Reggie Bonnafon||QB||6'3, 209||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8801||50||316||5||6.3||5.4||46.0%||4||3|
|L.J. Scott||RB||6'0, 226||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8634||29||201||2||6.9||8.7||41.4%||0||0|
|Will Gardner||QB||6'5, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8543||9||9||0||1.0||2.7||33.3%||5||5|
|Darius Skinner||RB||5'7, 190||Sr.||NR||NR||8||27||0||3.4||2.3||25.0%||0||0|
|Kyle Bolin||QB||6'2, 208||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8919||7||17||0||2.4||2.0||28.6%||2||1|
|Corvin Lamb||RB||5'9, 208||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8262||5||8||0||1.6||2.7||20.0%||0||0|
|Malin Jones (Northwestern)||RB||6'0, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8717|
|Jeremy Smith||RB||6'2, 225||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8689|
|James Allen||RB||5'11, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8685|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|James Quick||WR-W||6'1, 191||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9718||64||36||566||56.3%||15.6%||53.1%||8.8||119||9.1||77.2|
|Kai De La Cruz||WR-X||38||26||303||68.4%||9.3%||60.5%||8.0||-8||8.1||41.3|
|Keith Towbridge||TE||6'5, 261||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8432||22||9||107||40.9%||5.4%||63.6%||4.9||-14||4.9||14.6|
|WR-Z||6'4, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7926||21||9||190||42.9%||6.8%||38.1%||9.0||71||11.4||24.9|
|Brandon Radcliff||RB||5'9, 214||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8410||12||6||84||50.0%||2.9%||58.3%||7.0||8||7.0||11.5|
|Charles Standberry||WR-W||6'3, 226||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8472||12||7||57||58.3%||2.9%||91.7%||4.8||-29||3.0||7.8|
|L.J. Scott||RB||6'0, 226||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8634||9||7||36||77.8%||2.2%||66.7%||4.0||-46||3.9||4.9|
|Ja'Quay Williams (Texas A&M)||WR-X||6'3, 214||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9181||8||4||71||50.0%||1.7%||50.0%||8.9||16||6.1||11.9|
|Javonte Bagley||WR-Z||6'3, 192||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7912||3||2||18||66.7%||0.7%||0.0%||6.0||-6||N/A||2.5|
|Gio Pascascio||WR-X||6'3, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||NR|
|Micky Crum||TE||6'4, 257||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8432|
|Cole Hikutini||TE||6'5, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8173|
|Alphonso Carter||WR-Z||6'3, 205||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8496|
|Devante Peete||WR||6'6, 200||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8887|
|Traveon Samuel||WR-W||5'7, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8774|
|Emonee Smith||WR||6'3, 194||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8597|
4. Mix 'n match, Part 1: the receiving corps
Instead of focusing on what Louisville must replace, let's list the assets the Cardinals feature in their receiving corps this year:
- A former blue-chip prospect (James Quick) who has averaged more than 15 yards per catch in his first two seasons.
- Another four-star junior (Ja'Quay Williams) who got lost in a deep receiving corps but still averaged 17.8 yards per catch in limited action as a freshman.
- A lanky junior (Jamari Staples) who emerged as a field-stretcher, averaging 21.1 yards per catch, though also in limited action.
- A pair of JUCO transfers with good size (tight end Cole Hikutini, wideout Alphonso Carter).
- A big tight end (Keith Towbridge) who saw playing time as a sophomore backup.
- A four-star freshman from Florida (Devante Peete) who chose Louisville over most of the ACC and SEC.
When you look at it like that, it's easy to get excited about the passing game no matter who wins the starting quarterback job. But these combined to catch 45 passes in a Louisville uniform last year -- 36 from Quick, and 9 (in 21 targets) from Towbridge.
It's never smart to underestimate a Petrino passing game, and I'll try not to do it, but this unit is potentially awesome in theory and one of the least proven in the ACC. If Quick is ready to take over the No. 1 role, Williams is ready to become a decent No. 2 or 3, Staples is able to occasionally stretch the field the way he did for UAB, and Peete is able to contribute a little bit, this unit could be stellar.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Jamon Brown||LT||40||2014 2nd All-ACC|
|Tobijah Hughley||C||6'3, 289||Jr.||NR||NR||12|
|Aaron Epps||RT||6'7, 288||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8357||6|
|Skylar Lacy||RG||6'6, 306||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8463||1|
|Kelby Johnson||LT||6'7, 297||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8307||0|
|Pedro Sibiea||LG||6'3, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8000||0|
|T.C. Klusman||C||6'3, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8318||0|
|Lukayus McNeil||LT||6'6, 313||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8637|
|Danny Burns||RT||6'6, 303||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8503|
|Khalil Hunter||LG||6'4, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8528|
|Kiola Mahoni||OL||6'4, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7967|
|Toriano Roundtree||OL||6'8, 295||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8111|
|Geron Christian||OL||6'4, 305||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8323|
|Chandler Jones||OL||6'3, 304||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8478|
5. A seasoned line is a set of training wheels ... and the training wheels are off
Even if Louisville doesn't get much from former Northwestern superback Malin Jones or a youngster like freshman James Allen, the Cardinals should be fine at running back. Brandon Radcliff was a steady option in 2014, and sophomore L.J. Scott showed serious open-field jets when he got the opportunity.
But that's not to say the run game won't be a problem. A line that struggled with leakiness -- 113th in stuff rate, 119th in passing downs sack rate -- must now replace four players who had combined for 158 career starts, more than 12 years' worth. And while there are instant-upgrade transfers in other units, the line has been left to its own devices, two JUCO signees aside.
Even with uncertainty at QB, the line is easily the biggest question mark for the Louisville offense.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||32.4%||2||Succ. Rt. +||122.1||9|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.1||41||Off. FP+||100.0||65|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.6||12||Redzone S&P+||113.8||23|
|Q1 Rk||10||1st Down Rk||12|
|Q2 Rk||9||2nd Down Rk||33|
|Q3 Rk||38||3rd Down Rk||3|
6. Break, don't bend
The Bend-Don't-Break measure in the defensive footprint chart is derived by comparing a team's defensive success rate (efficiency) to its IsoPPP (explosiveness) to figure out what percentage of the team's overall S&P was determined by each measure. The idea is simple: if you're sacrificing efficiency in the name of big-play prevention, you've got bend-don't-break characteristics.
Risk isn't always rewarded, but a lot of 2014's best defense had no interest in a bend-don't-break philosophy. Of the 11 teams with the lowest bend-don't-break ratios, five ranked in the Def. S&P+ top 25 (No. 2 Clemson, No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 13 TCU, No. 14 Louisville, No. 22 Michigan State), and only two ranked worse than 61st (No. 77 UTEP, No. 124 Buffalo).
Meanwhile, of the 10 bendiest and least breakingest defenses, only one (No. 1 Ole Miss, of all teams) ranked higher than 54th, and six ranked 87th or worse.
Bending is perhaps the right choice if you don't have the talent to attack; Todd Grantham's first Louisville defense, however, had the talent to attack. The Cardinals recorded 87 tackles for loss (30th in FBS), 77 passes defensed (14th), and a 20.2 percent Havoc Rate (eighth) last year. There were some occasional big-play issues on passing downs, but the risks mostly paid off. Louisville allowed only 4.8 yards per play (a full yard under the national average) and more than 5.6 per play just three times -- against Florida State, Notre Dame, and Georgia.
The secondary faces some scary turnover this year, but the front seven might be so dominant that it doesn't matter.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Sheldon Rankins||DE||6'2, 303||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8556||13||42.0||6.4%||13.5||8.0||2||1||1||1|
|DeAngelo Brown||NT||6'1, 308||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8379||13||15.0||2.3%||2.0||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Pio Vatuvei||DE||6'2, 296||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.9037||11||13.5||2.0%||4.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Johnny Richardson||NT||6'3, 322||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8722||11||6.0||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kyle Shortridge||DE||6'2, 305||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8578||4||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Drew Bailey||DE||6'5, 285||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8347|
|G.G. Robinson||DE||6'4, 268||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8439|
|Tim Bonner||DE||6'5, 211||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8337|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Keith Kelsey||MIKE||6'1, 236||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8578||13||73.5||11.2%||7.0||6.0||0||3||0||0|
|James Burgess||MO||6'0, 229||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8681||13||57.0||8.6%||10.0||3.0||3||5||0||0|
|LB||6'4, 245||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9221||13||43.5||6.7%||18.5||10.0||1||4||2||1|
|Keith Brown||SAM||6'1, 237||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9280||13||15.0||2.3%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Stacy Thomas||MIKE||6'1, 225||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8731||13||7.5||1.1%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Trevon Young||MO||6'4, 229||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8603||11||6.0||0.9%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Nick Dawson-Brents||SAM||6'3, 265||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9149||12||4.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Lamar Atkins||MIKE||5'11, 236||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7718||12||3.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Finesse Middleton||WILL||6'0, 242||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8407||7||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|James Hearns||SAM||6'3, 257||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8938|
|Henry Famurewa||WILL||6'2, 245||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8424|
|Isaac Stewart||MO||6'2, 236||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8464|
|Amonte Caban||LB||6'1, 226||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8740|
7. A potentially terrifying front seven
Louisville was active and strong: 20th in Adj. Sack Rate and 21st in stuff rate, but also fourth in power success rate. DeAngelo Brown took to life as a 3-4 nose tackle, and Sheldon Rankins was one of the most terrifying combinations in college football: huge (303 pounds) with pass-rushing quickness (eight sacks). Yikes.
Brown and Rankins return, as does end Pio Vautvei and two excellent linebackers, Keith Kelsey and James Burgess (combined: 17 TFLs, 9 sacks, 11 passes defensed). Despite some losses here and there, there's more than enough returning talent to make this a stiff front seven once again.
Oh yeah, and Louisville added the 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as well. Troubled junior Devonte Fields recorded 18.5 tackles for loss that season before missing most of 2013 with injury and suspension, then getting kicked off of the team last summer. He spent last fall at JUCO, and Petrino took a chance. [Update: Fields has been cleared to play.]
If Fields is acting the part of a decent citizen and staying on the field, this front seven could be unbelievable. Three 300-pounders up front (with one more than capable of not only occupying blockers but shedding them in the backfield), with Fields, Kelsey, Burgess, and any of three former four-star recruits (Keith Brown, Nick Dawson-Brents, or James Hearns) swarming behind them? My goodness.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Josh Harvey-Clemons (Georgia)||SS||6'5, 230||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9888||11||51.5||7.0%||5.5||0||1||5||2||1|
|CB||5'10, 171||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9378||12||18.0||2.4%||3||0||2||4||0||0|
|Trumaine Washington||CB||5'10, 183||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8262||8||13.0||2.0%||1||1||0||1||0||0|
|Jermaine Reve||SS||6'0, 192||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8273||6||12.5||1.9%||2||1||0||2||0||0|
|Terrence Ross||S||6'1, 208||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8315||3||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chucky Williams||FS||6'2, 204||So.||3 stars (5.7)||NR||9||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Houchins||S||5'11, 201||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8417||8||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Devontre Parnell||CB||5'11, 184||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8758||3||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zykiesis Cannon||FS||6'0, 195||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8219||9||3.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jarrod Barnes||SS||5'11, 193||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Richard Benjamin||FS||6'0, 211||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8731|
|De'Eric Culver||CB||6'0, 186||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8650|
|Cornelius Sturghill||CB||5'11, 186||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8510|
|Dee Smith||S||6'1, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8949|
|Khane Pass||DB||6'1, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8625|
|Jaire Alexander||CB||5'11, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8478|
8. Mix 'n match, Part 2: the secondary
Let us again play mix-and-match. Ignore the fact that Louisville must replace its top three cornerbacks and two incredible safeties who combined for 18 interceptions, 11 break-ups, and five TFLs last year, and instead focus on what returns:
- An intimidating, huge, former five-star safety (Josh Harvey-Clemons) who combined 5.5 TFLs with six passes defensed as a true sophomore.
- A four-star cornerback (Shaq Wiggins) who started for a Grantham defense as a freshman and combined six passes defensed with three TFLs.
- A veteran safety (Jermaine Reve) who had two PDs and two TFLs last year despite missing the first half of the season.
- Three sophomores (Trumaine Washington, Terrence Ross, and Chucky Williams) who got their feet wet as freshmen and made the occasional play.
- A host of other freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores with size, athleticism, and decent recruiting rankings.
You can find plenty to like. But a unit rarely responds well after losing its top five players, and while both Harvey-Clemons and Wiggins played for Grantham at Georgia in 2013, they were part of an immensely disappointing secondary.
|Joshua Appleby||6'3, 222||Sr.||6||42.3||1||4||1||83.3%|
|John Wallace||6'0, 190||Sr.||70||62.6||27||2||38.6%|
|Jon Brown||5'10, 202||So.||9||62.8||4||0||44.4%|
|John Wallace||6'0, 190||Sr.||50-50||9-11||81.8%||6-8||75.0%|
|Brandon Radcliff||KR||5'9, 214||Jr.||12||21.8||0|
|James Quick||KR||6'1, 191||Jr.||8||19.5||0|
|James Quick||PR||6'1, 191||Jr.||20||7.4||0|
|Special Teams F/+||91|
|Field Goal Efficiency||32|
|Punt Return Efficiency||97|
|Kick Return Efficiency||23|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||121|
9. Wallace is a strength, at least
Special teams weren't a Louisville strength. Punt coverage was lacking, to put it nicely, and James Quick was all-or-nothing in punt returns. But the Cardinals did have John Wallace, so it could have been worse. Wallace was decent on kickoffs but perfect on PATs, and while he did miss two under-40 field goals, he was also 6-for-8 beyond 40.
His return, along with the presence of a new(ish) punter, could mean decent things, especially if Quick becomes a little more "all" and a little less "nothing" with experience.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|3-Oct||at N.C. State||48|
|17-Oct||at Florida State||17|
|30-Oct||at Wake Forest||89|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||18.4% (30)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||45 / 34|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||4 / -5.5|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+3.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||10 (4, 6)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||9.5 (-0.5)|
10. We'll know by September 18
This is a tricky schedule for a team breaking in unfamiliar pieces. Louisville faces only three teams projected to rank better than 38th, but two of them come in the first 13 days. The Cardinals head to the Georgia Dome to face Auburn in the opener, then welcome Clemson to Papa John's Stadium. In between: a tricky visit from an unscoutable Houston team that has a new head coach.
If Louisville's 2-1 when Samford comes to town in Week 4, the Cardinals are going to do some damage. No matter what, they should be good enough to take advantage of a weak final two months, but the first three weeks will set the goals -- a nine-win season vs. a conference title run and a major bowl bid.
Even with the losses in the secondary, I can't pretend to worry about this defense. That front seven is going to be too much for most teams.
But this offense might take a while to get rolling. The quarterbacks will be a little more experienced, but the line is green, and it might take a few weeks to generate a great rapport with the receiving corps. Louisville is likely to finish strong, but a couple of early slips will probably prevent the Cardinals from major breakthrough.