Opening kickoff is a little more than two weeks away, and as we count down, let's analyze Boston College's opponents. Today we examine the Louisville Cardinals, the newest member of the ACC, a team that has had tremendous recent success
The Louisville 2013 Season In Review
The Cardinals final season in the AAC had to be a major disappointment for Charlie Strong and the fans. After basically cruising through what was a pretty easy schedule, Louisville ran into the UCF juggernaut who put on a come from behind victory that proved to be one of the better games of the year. Teddy Bridgewater finished off the season with six more seasons capped off by thrashing Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl 36-9. But things have changed, Charlie Strong was poached by Texas, and Teddy Bridgewater is off to the Minnesota Vikings. But there is still a ton of talent left in Louisville, and Bobby Petrino is no slouch of a coach and will have the Cardinals ready for their first year in the ACC.
We'll put aside the general tackiness of this hire, that it sets an awful example for players (if you're into that sort of thing) ... that Louisville is basically welcoming back the guy who cheated on the program, then dumped it seven years ago ... that there's a chance that, despite the "baby, I've changed" rhetoric, he leaves Louisville for a sexier job again in the coming years ... that even though we know that winning is all that matters, we don't necessarily enjoy having that principle shoved so blatantly in our faces.
Indeed, let's put that aside. This makes quite a bit of sense on paper ... we think. [...]
The problem, if one exists, isn't what's on his résumé; it's what's not. When he left Louisville, successor Steve Kragthorpe won just 15 games in three seasons. When he left Arkansas (because of a literal extra-marital situation, instead of the figurative one mentioned above), the Hogs went 7-17 in 2012-13. Were these just poor hires by these respective schools, or were there cracks in the foundation that might actually trip Petrino up if he sticks around in the same place for long enough? We'll see.
The Louisville Offense
There are going to be numerous changes this year for the Cardinals, but it looks like they will be ready to meet the challenge. Garrick McGee has taken over as the offensive coordinator, who left a head coaching job at UAB to join Petrino. He immediately opened up the quarterback job, and apparently the winner was redshirt freshman Will Gardner. The coaching staff glows about him, as he has a very strong arm, and can move, running a 4.55 40. Paul Myerberg projects him to be the best quarterback in the ACC behind Jameis Winston. That is high praise indeed.
At wide receiver, Louisville trots out one of the best wide receivers in the ACC in Devante Parker. The senior flourished at the end of the 2013 season with 18 catches combined in his final two games against Miami and Cincinnati. If he continues to improve, the 6'3 209 pounder could be catching balls in the NFL in 2015. But the talent and experience doesn't end with Parker. Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz and Michaelee Harris are all seniors and combined for 74 catches last season. That experience will help to break in the young inexperienced Gardner.
In terms of the backfield, the Cardinals will have two solid options to carry the ball. Dominique Brown most likely will be the top ball carrier for Bobby Petrino, but Michael Dyer will get his opportunities too, especially if he can stay healthy. Brown ran for over 800 yards last season, and has the ability to make a big play, while Dyer is more of the power back that will compliment Brown's speed.
On the offensive line Louisville will be starting three all league upperclassmen. Senior Jake Smith looks to line up at guard along with fellow guard John Miller. The center most likely will be Tobijah Hughley with the tackles being JUCO transfer Kelby Johnson and Jamon Brown. However after the starting five, the Cardinals are thin on the line, and this could be a position of weakness for them as the season progresses.
The Louisville Defense
Louisville went out and made a major move this offseason when they snagged Todd Grantham away from the University of Georgia. Like during his time in Athens, Grantham is going to implement a base 3-4 defense which will give special emphasis on the play of his linebackers (something UGA was known for). Changes in scheme, especially with a group that includes many upperclassmen could mean a step down in the Louisville defense, one that finished first in the country in yards allowed, 2nd in points allowed, first in rushing defense, and fifth in passing yards allowed.
As mentioned above, the play of the linebackers will dictate the success of the Cardinals defense. It's going to be a bit of a challenge for Grantham as he will be filling his ranks with converted defensive ends. Lorenzo Mauldin and Deiontrez Mount, both seniors who played end, most likely will be getting the starting nods on the weak and strong side. The inside will include senior Keith Brown who is returning from an injury that forced him out of action in 2013, and James Burgess who is the most polished of all the linebackers.
The defensive line also is very inexperienced, and will be asked to learn the new defensive scheme quickly. DeAngelo Brown should be the starter at the nose, and at three hundred and sixteen pounds he is the prototypical nose tackle. Sheldon Rankins and B.J. Dubose will most likely be the ends. But after these three, there isn't much on the roster in terms of experience, something that may come back to haunt the Cardinals when they get into big games against deeper rosters like Clemson and Florida State.
Along with losing Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong, one of the biggest losses for the Cardinals this offseason was the departure of safety Calvin Pryor. He was the anchor in the secondary, which helped produce one of the nation's strongest defenses. Petrino hasn't been able to find go to players in the secondary yet but according to Paul Myerberg he is using a rotation of five Gerod Holliman and Jarrod Barnes, both sophomores, and redshirt freshmen Chucky Williams, Richard Benjamin and Terrence Ross. It'll be a position battle to watch.
Where BC Should Be Successful
Clearly Louisville's defense is not going to be what it was last year, especially with the loss of Pryor and the change in scheme. Will they be a bad defense? Certainly not. But should BC be able to mix it up and move the ball? I believe they could. BC is going to get the Cardinals later in the season, when they may have started to put together how Grantham's style works. However, BC was able to move the ball against some good defenses last year, and I expect a good home crowd advantage for the Eagles. At this point in the season if BC has the ability to move the ball effectively through the air, this may be a matchup that works in their favor. Otherwise give them a steady dose of running the ball.
Where BC May Struggle
Louisville's offense is going to be good this year. Will Gardner is an ACC level quarterback who looks to step right in where Teddy Bridgewater left off. If he learns how to effectively use his weapons, and moves the pocket he should be able to put up big yards against this defense. If the Cards are able to stretch the field and get favorable 1:1 matchups on the corners, Devante Parker could have a big game. His talents against a questionable secondary is concerning.
Wayyyyyyy Too Early Prediction
Boston College 24 Louisville 17. I think Boston College is going to beat someone this season at home they should have no business beating, and for some reason this game sticks out to me. It's a home game, and BC has played very well under Steve Addazio at Alumni Stadium (small sample size I know), and I just think that Louisville's lack of experience on the defense will be enough for Ryan Day to exploit some holes and put up some points. BC is going to need a signature win this season to be bowl eligible, and mark it down that I think it might be this game.