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Question Bobby Petrino's methods if you want, but Louisville's gonna keep winning

Who needs continuity when your roster's this loaded with talent?

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
1-Sep Miami 31 31-13 W 84% 23.3 87%
6-Sep Murray State N/A 66-21 W 72% 13.3 100%
13-Sep at Virginia 39 21-23 L 50% -0.1 37%
20-Sep at Florida International 96 34-3 W 96% 40.7 100%
27-Sep Wake Forest 101 20-10 W 82% 21.8 100%
3-Oct at Syracuse 80 28-6 W 75% 15.9 96%
11-Oct at Clemson 14 17-23 L 90% 30.2 89%
18-Oct N.C. State 55 30-18 W 76% 16.6 79%
30-Oct Florida State 15 31-42 L 49% -0.8 23%
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%
29-Nov Kentucky 68 44-40 W 84% 23.6 97%
30-Dec vs. Georgia 4 14-37 L 42% -4.6 3%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 31.7 49 18.8 14
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.97 14 IsoPPP+ 120.6 27
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 27.5 ACTUAL 26 -1.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 72 38 55 27
RUSHING 95 31 47 23
PASSING 47 42 52 35
Standard Downs 24 36 16
Passing Downs 83 93 66
Q1 Rk 25 1st Down Rk 69
Q2 Rk 45 2nd Down Rk 39
Q3 Rk 76 3rd Down Rk 36
Q4 Rk 49

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
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
Brett Nelson
4 7 27 0 0 57.1% 0 0.0% 3.9
Tyler Ferguson
(Penn State)
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Brandon Radcliff RB 5'9, 214 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8410 144 737 12 5.1 4.0 42.4% 3 1
Michael Dyer RB
110 481 5 4.4 4.7 38.2% 1 1
Dominique Brown RB
96 378 4 3.9 3.3 34.4% 2 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







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Eli Rogers WR-W
78 45 525 57.7% 19.1% 47.4% 6.7 -31 7.3 71.6
DeVante Parker WR-X
70 43 855 61.4% 17.1% 52.9% 12.2 331 12.6 116.6
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
Gerald Christian TE
55 32 384 58.2% 13.4% 58.2% 7.0 -11 7.0 52.4
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
Jamari Staples
(UAB)
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
Michaelee Harris WR-W
16 9 113 56.3% 3.9% 56.3% 7.1 1 7.1 15.4
Dominique Brown RB
14 7 85 50.0% 3.4% 50.0% 6.1 -4 6.5 11.6
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
Matt Milton WR-Z
7 3 85 42.9% 1.7% 42.9% 12.1 45 12.4 11.6
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.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 111.1 2.9 3.26 39.1% 61.0% 23.4% 80.3 5.7% 11.7%
Rank 31 72 66 68 107 113 100 87 119
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jamon Brown LT 40 2014 2nd All-ACC
Jake Smith RG
51
John Miller LG
47
Ryan Mack RT
20
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.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.93 107 IsoPPP+ 116.8 26
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.9 ACTUAL 30.0 +8.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 6 11 8 26
RUSHING 10 15 12 27
PASSING 27 20 5 38
Standard Downs 8 8 20
Passing Downs 33 12 50
Q1 Rk 10 1st Down Rk 12
Q2 Rk 9 2nd Down Rk 33
Q3 Rk 38 3rd Down Rk 3
Q4 Rk 75

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.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 112.1 2.32 2.93 34.1% 51.6% 22.8% 131.2 5.7% 11.6%
Rank 26 6 34 21 4 21 20 42 12
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
B.J. Dubose DE
13 32.5 4.9% 7.5 4.0 0 1 0 0
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








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Devonte Fields
(TCU)
LB 6'4, 245 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9221 13 43.5 6.7% 18.5 10.0 1 4 2 1
Lorenzo Mauldin WILL
12 43.5 6.6% 13.0 6.5 0 3 1 0
Deiontrez Mount SAM
13 32.5 4.9% 10.5 5.0 0 0 1 0
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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
James Sample SS
13 82.0 12.4% 2 0 4 8 0 0
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
Terell Floyd CB
13 44.0 6.7% 5 0 1 7 1 0
Gerod Holliman FS
13 39.0 5.9% 3 1 14 3 1 0
Charles Gaines CB
13 33.5 5.1% 1 1 2 10 1 0
Shaq Wiggins
(Georgia)
CB 5'10, 171 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9378 12 18.0 2.4% 3 0 2 4 0 0
Andrew Johnson CB
12 15.0 2.3% 1.5 0 0 3 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Ryan Johnson 66 40.2 4 21 17 57.6%
Joshua Appleby 6'3, 222 Sr. 6 42.3 1 4 1 83.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
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%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
John Wallace 6'0, 190 Sr. 50-50 9-11 81.8% 6-8 75.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
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
Eli Rogers PR 11 10.2 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 91
Field Goal Efficiency 32
Punt Return Efficiency 97
Kick Return Efficiency 23
Punt Efficiency 116
Kickoff Efficiency 62
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

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep vs. Auburn 5
12-Sep Houston 85
17-Sep Clemson 15
26-Sep Samford NR
3-Oct at N.C. State 48
17-Oct at Florida State 17
24-Oct Boston College 49
30-Oct at Wake Forest 89
7-Nov Syracuse 73
14-Nov Virginia 46
21-Nov at Pittsburgh 38
28-Nov at Kentucky 52
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.