Louisville shocked everyone by going 5-2 in the Big East last season. All the preseason magazines had them pegged as a team that would be down at the bottom of the conference. Now, the role for the Cardinals is completely reversed. The preseason prognostications are calling for Louisville to finish at the top of the Big East.
Charlie Strong is doing his best to make sure this team realizes that preseason accolades mean absolutely nothing. It’s also important to remember that the Big East isn’t exactly thriving right now. West Virginia is gone and Pittsburgh and Syracuse are expected to leave after this season. Louisville is falling into the role of favorite largely because there is no strong team to challenge them right now.
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The Cardinals have the potential to move up and be a national player over the next few years, but there is a lot of progress still to be made. The positive signs are all over the place. Can this team build on this initial foundation of success?
Coach Strong has been around a winning program before. He was on the sidelines with Urban Meyer in Gainesville, so he knows what it takes to be a champion. He fully understands that Louisville is just on the first couple steps of a long road ahead if they wish to be competing for national titles. Strong is known for being a defensive mastermind, and that is the main spot where he is making an imprint on the Louisville football program right now.
Louisville is considered a “basketball school”, but Strong is doing his best to change that. In late March when the football team had spring drills, the local media seemed disinterested. Those media outlets were busy covering the Louisville Cardinals basketball team and their Final Four run. Strong took a stand and kicked all the local media out of the Cardinals football team practices for more than a week. He wanted to make sure everyone realized his team wasn’t willing to take a back seat to anyone.
It all starts with sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the Louisville offense. Bridgewater was the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2011. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes in his freshman year, and he also threw for 14 touchdowns. This is a guy who has the size and arm strength to be a star at the quarterback spot. He’ll need to mature and make better decisions with the football, but that should come with time.
Louisville likes to use a tailback-by-committee approach, but they can’t be too thrilled to be without Victor Anderson. Anderson graduated last year, and he was the team’s leading rusher in 2011. The Cardinals rushed for only 121.5 yards per game last year, and that number must improve going forward. The offensive line was partly to blame for the lack of a running game last season. Louisville ranked 110th in the nation in pass protection, and they struggled to open up holes for runners out of the backfield.
Wide receiver is a spot where Louisville feels comfortable heading into the 2012 season. The Cardinals return three of their top four receivers from a year ago. In fact, their top two receivers from a year ago were freshman. Look for a big season from Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris as they come into their own with a year of experience under their belt. The Cardinals have plenty of speed on the outside to stretch the defense.
The defensive line was a major strength for the team in 2011, and three starters return from that group. Louisville allowed only 3.0 yards per carry last season. The Cardinals ranked 10th in the nation against the run. Louisville piled up 33 sacks last year, so this line is also good at pressuring the opposing quarterback. Marcus Smith and B.J. Dubose are excellent at the two defensive end spots.
Dexter Heyman was Louisville’s leading tackler last year, but he graduated at the end of last season. The team will badly miss his 90 tackles and 16 stops for a loss. Strong expects junior Preston Brown to step into the leadership role for this group. Brown definitely has the skills to lead the defense, but Coach Strong wants him to become more of a vocal leader on the field. The Cardinals have some depth at this position, but they are very short on experience.
Louisville’s secondary is in good shape heading into 2012. Hakeem Smith stepped in and started 12 games as a freshman last year, and he should be a leader for this defense in the year ahead. Senior corner Adrian Bushell transferred into Louisville last year, and he looks like a lockdown corner who could play in the NFL. This unit should be even better this season.
2012 Louisville Cardinals Football Schedule Analysis
There is nothing intimidating about the Louisville schedule in 2012. The Cardinals host Kentucky in a rivalry game to start the year. On Sept. 22, the Cardinals first hit the road against a dangerous FIU team in Florida. Louisville will host USF and Cincinnati, but they must travel to Pittsburgh in Big East play.
It’s hard to imagine this team being an underdog in more than two or three games this season. This team isn’t good enough to just show up and beat everyone on the schedule, but there isn’t a team on this schedule that the Cardinals can’t beat if they play well.
2012 Louisville Cardinals Big East and BCS Futures Odds
At 5Dimes, the Cardinals are listed at +35,000 to win the BCS Championship. JustBet lists the Cardinals as a co-favorite along with Cincinnati at +200 to win the Big East Conference. Teddy Bridgewater is listed at +15,000 to win the Heisman Trophy at 5Dimes. Louisville is an early five-point home favorite in their Oct. 26 matchup against Cincinnati according to 5Dimes. BetOnline lists the Louisville season win total at nine (the “under” is priced at -175).
2012 Louisville Cardinals Football Predictions
Louisville is on the right track right now, and they certainly benefit from a very weak conference. Look for the Cardinals to improve even further in 2012, and that should mean an increase in wins. In both 2010 and 2011, the Cardinals finished with seven wins. Eight or nine wins seems pretty likely, especially given the favorable schedule the team has in the year ahead.
With the season win total placed at nine, I don’t see much value on that wager. If you are going to wager on the Cardinals futures in 2012, a small play on them to win the Big East Conference looks like the best value. Louisville has the best defense in the conference, and this program should take another step forward in 2012.
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