2014 Record: 9-4
F/+ Rank: 23
Wins: Miami, Murray State, FIU, Wake Forest, Syracuse, NC State, Boston College, Notre Dame, Kentucky
Losses: Virginia, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia
The Cardinals' first season as members of the ACC produced a highly-successful campaign with nine wins and four losses - only one of which could really be considered a "bad loss" given the opponent. The team showed mettle in handling nearly all of the teams they played but stopped short of joining Clemson and Florida State as members of the Atlantic Divsion's elite.
Opening up the season at home in their ACC opener against Miami, the Cardinals bludgeoned the Hurricanes by a 31-13 count. It was all they needed to enter the top 25, moving up to the 21st-ranked team after defeating Murray State, 66-21, the next week.
But before they could become an instant major player in the league, Louisville fumbled a chance to go to 3-0 with a 23-21 loss to Virginia on the road. Trailing 20-7 in the fourth, Louisville rallied to take a 21-20 lead late in the quarter, but they lost when Ian Frye kicked a 42-yard field goal to give the Cavaliers a 23-21 victory.
The Cardinals rallied to rattle off three straight wins over FIU, Wake Forest, and Syracuse, but a loss to Clemson assured them denial in their attempt to crash the Atlantic Division party. After beating NC State to return to the national polls, Louisville lost to Florida State, 42-31. A win over Boston College sealed third place in the Atlantic Division, and season-ending wins over Notre Dame and cross-state rival Kentucky sent them to the Belk Bowl, where they lost to Georgia.
Series: Louisville leads, 4-3
First matchup: 1986 (BC won, 41-7)
Last matchup: 2014 (L'ville won, 38-19)
Perhaps no coach is more of an enigma than Bobby Petrino. He's the type of coach who is always successful, having built Louisville to a national powerhouse while in the Big East. After leaving, he built Arkansas into a BCS-level team. Then his own personal demons unraveled his career and forced him into the shadows of Western Kentucky before he resurfaced with the Cardinals' move to the ACC.
There's no questioning Petrino is a winner. At 50-13 overall, hes one of the very best active coaches in that regard. But he hasn't had to recruit ACC-level talent yet, and although he won nine games with a team recruited to play in the AAC, he's yet to show he can challenge the top of the Atlantic Division (hard to do with only one year under his belt).
Over the next five years, his challenge will be quite similar to Boston College - can Louisville rise up and become a #1 or #2 team in the ACC? Or are they destined to win eight or nine games, be a solid team cracking in and out of the polls, living in the middle tier?
The Cards return everyone who played quarterback for them last year, but it remains to be seen who can win the starting job with consistency. Whoever plays QB (see below) will have new wide receivers to work with. If they have to go to the running game, Brandon Radcliff is back in red and white.
Defensively, this team may be the most underrated and possibly the best unit in the league. While a team like Virginia Tech reaps the benefits of preseason coverage, Sheldon Rankins, Pio Vatuvei, DeAngelo Brown, and Devonte Fields should present a defensive line capable of ruining opposing offense's days. Fields, by the way, isn't a returning starter for this team, but he was the 2013 Big XII Defensive Player of the Year.
Even without a returning secondary, the front seven should destroy offenses enough to allow their DB's to make plays.
The offensive line will need to replace a couple of parts, even though they bring back Aaron Epps. Even so, chemistry could be an issue for a team likely to have issues figuring out who is going to throw the football and who exactly is going to catch it. If they can't come together, it doesn't matter that the team will have to rely on the running back since the running back won't have anywhere to go.
Returning Quarterback: Yes/No/Maybe?
Reggie Bonnafon is back. Okay great.
So is Kyle Bolin, who led the Cardinals past rival Kentucky.
Will Gardner threw for 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns, throwing just three interceptions last year. He looked like he was pulling away with the starting job, especially after going for 330 yards and a touchdown against Florida State. Then he tore his knee against Boston College and wasn't heard from again.
So the starting quarterbacks are all back. Good luck figuring out who is going to get the call with regularity.
Biggest Problem for 2015:
It's often said that defenses win championships. If that's true, then Louisville would already be the champ. Unfortunately, though, their offense is going to have holes. We're not sure who is going to emerge as the full time starting quarterback, and we can't be certain who's going to catch the football. If that weren't enough, the offensive line needs patch work.
So in essence, Petrino, an offensive wizard, needs to go into the lab early and figure it out. If he can't, 9-4 will slide back to 8-5 or worse pretty quickly.
Oh Mama be still my heart for this defense. I don't care who's playing secondary at this point - the defensive line is going to be so good that you or I could go out there and defend these receivers. Run-first teams are going to need mega help to penetrate into the teeth of that defense, and pass-first teams are going to find themselves with a lot less time than necessary.
Given Florida State's need to replace parts on offense, Clemson's lack of experience on the offensive line, Boston College's lack of a true passing game, and Syracuse/Wake Forest's collective abysmal offenses, the defense could run Louisville straight through to an ACC Championship Game berth. If you want a risky but fun bet to make, mark it down for the 'Ville.