We can ask ourselves endlessly why in the world Bobby Petrino is again coaching the Louisville Cardinals - or any program in college football, for that matter. The sad but simple truth, though, is that you don't need class to win, and at this level Petrino really knows how to win. Besides, that's old news. Petrino is in his third year back at Louisville, and after seasons with nine and eight wins, this is the time when he should - and really needs to - take a big step forward and prove that he can make the ACC more than a two-team league.
The urgency to get better in a hurry is high, because not only are they in the same conference as Florida State and Clemson but also in the same division, so they can never make the Championship Game if they don't find a way to knock those two off their perches.
While the team's 8-5 record last year looks pretty pedestrian, you really need to split the season in two. They opened up 2-4, and it looked like it was going to be a totally wasted season. By finishing with wins in six of their final seven, though, they showed that they do have some talent and that they could be moving in the right direction - if, that is, you believe both in the concept of momentum and their ability to carry it forward to this season.
Key Additions and Departures
The team has 16 starters back from last season, so they are in better shape than many. The big loss is DT Sheldon Rankins, who was selected 12th overall in the draft by New Orleans. He was the only player drafted, though, so they haven't been gutted of their stars.
Offensively, Lamar Jackson is entrenched at QB, and after a stellar bowl performance expectations are very high. Last year the offensive line was disaster - especially early. It was relying on two freshman starters and a juco transfer, though, so a year of experience and the continuity of four returning starters is a big positive. All of the running backs and receivers return, too. This offense struggled until late last season and hurt the team. That really shouldn't be the case this year.
Aside from Rankins it looked like the defense could lose as many as four other players to the NFL Draft. In a surprising series of decisions, though, all four stuck around. That's huge because it means that aside from Rankins they don't have big holes to fill, and the rotation is deep enough up front that the impact of the loss won't be massive. This defense saved the team last year, and the unit will be more than capable of doing their part again this year.
Louisville Cardinals Schedule Analysis
The Cardinals play in the ACC and are in the Atlantic division, so we can break down their schedule pretty much without looking at it. There are two games that matter in conference play, and they would need to win at least one to have any chance of moving on to the conference championship game. In Week 3 they host Florida State, and then two weeks later they play at Clemson. Lose both of those games and their season is functionally over on Oct. 1. The rest of the conference schedule should be manageable, so if this team is as good as many expect them to be then 6-2 in conference play would be the minimum - with more than that unlikely given how strong both Clemson and Florida State should be.
Nonconference play has two very easy game - against Charlotte and at Marshall - and a rivalry game that should be manageable against Kentucky. Unfortunately, it also includes the third-toughest game on the whole schedule - a trip to Houston in the second to last week of the season. If the Cardinals were somehow nationally relevant by then - meaning they had won at least one of their big games and taken care of business otherwise - then this could be a truly massive game.
2016-17 Louisville Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has Louisville at +6600 to win the national title, which has them tied with a group of teams, including Houston, as the 23rd choice. They are at +1000 to win the ACC, which ties them with North Carolina as the fourth choice to win the ACC. They are the third choice to win the ACC Atlantic at +600, well behind favored Clemson and Florida State. BetOnline has set the season win total at 9, with the "under" favored at -125.
This was a pretty mediocre team to watch last season, and they were very underwhelming to bet on, too. They were 7-6 ATS on the season and were 6-6-1 against the total.
2016-17 Louisville Predictions and College Football Picks
I really wish this team was in a different division. There is a lot to like here, and they are going to take strides forward. With the Florida State and Clemson games on the schedule, though, the ceiling likely still sits at 10 regular-season wins - and to get there requires beating a potentially very good Houston team on the road. They need to get to that 10-win mark somehow for this season to truly have been deemed a success, but I can't bet that they will.
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