It's not football season yet, I know. But it's 63 days away, for those keeping track. And that means we're prepping for this all-important 2015 season at Syracuse. We start with our opponents, which "may" not be as tough as they've been in recent seasons. Each week, we'll preview another team on the 2015 slate, from week one through week 13. Today, we continue with the:
School: University of Louisville
#BRAND Slogan: "Louisville First, Cards Forever"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "Back-to-Back Conference Realignment Champs." "House of Card-inals."
Recommended Blog: Card Chronicle
Coach: Bobby Petrino, 2nd/6th year. This is Petrino's second go-around at Louisville, which explains the discrepancy directly before this. And getting back to his roots last season, he pretty much picked up right where he left off. The Cardinals were very good and at least some of that can be considered the coach's doing -- especially because of all of the roster turnover the team experienced going into 2014. Following both conference changes over the past 11 years, the Cards have seemingly ended up better than when they arrived. The common denominator there? Ol' Bobby.
2014 Record: (9-4) (5-3)
Recapping Last Season:
Louisville found a way last season. Despite a bunch of newcomers and a quarterback-by-committee setup that's unbecoming of a typical Petrino team, the Cardinals made it work. No Teddy Bridgewater ended up being no problem for a group that competed in every game but that last one versus Georgia, with three QBs accounting for 3,200 passing yards and 21 passing TDs between them. Despite being considered among the conference's "second-tier" behind Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech, 'Ville only lost by 17 combined points to the former two squads. That's quite an accomplishment, given the circumstances.
On the offensive side of the ball, Louisville failed to excel in any one particular way, but they manged to do everything just well enough to get by. The aforementioned passing game ranked 47th in the country, and the run game was a lowly 95th. But they still scored a respectable 31.2 points per game. And they still had a running back (Brandon Radcliff) with over 700 yards and 12 scores. And they still got star receiver DeVante Parker plenty involved despite some perceived issues throwing the ball. Overall, there was plenty that could have been better about the group's production. But sometimes doing enough is.. enough.
Why that offense WAS enough is largely due to the defense, though. Louisville's D was among the best in the country. Their total defense was sixth in the FBS, and scoring defense was 24th overall (allowing 21.8 points per game). The Cardinals forced 30 turnovers (11th in the country), including 26 picks (tied for first). Utilizing an experienced secondary to guide the ship, 'Ville had a dynamic group that got after the football at every turn and continually set up the pedestrian offense for success. Need more proof? The Cards' time of possession was 15th-best in the country. As a unit, it was tough to be much more important to team wins and losses than Louisville's defense was last year.
History with Syracuse: Syracuse and Louisville only started playing in earnest back in 2003, competing all but twice from then through 2014. And being in the same division for the foreseeable future, the Orange and Cardinals should expand upon their current record against one another, which stands at 6-7 in favor of U of L. The Cardinals have won three of the last four, the lone Orange victory being the 45-26 upset at the Carrier Dome that we all remember pretty fondly. SU also beat 'Ville in Tokyo once, which was also fun, I'd imagine.
2015 Season Outlook:
Louisville returns less than half of its starters from last year's nine-win squad, which is certainly going to present some challenges right off the bat. There's also the fact that ACC squads are now familiar with them, which could remove any sort of "surprise" element that could occur from lack of playing one another (see, perhaps: Syracuse's 2013 ACC debut). But all of those things can probably be overcome with one simple tweak compared to last season: reliable and consistent play at the quarterback position (a Petrino hallmark that was stunningly absent in 2014).
Last year's lead rusher, Radcliff, returns, but beyond him the offense is a whole new group. Two of five return on the line, and the team's top offensive weapon -- Parker -- jumped off to the NFL. But a host of quarterbacks return, all with experience. And if one of Will Gardner, Reggie Bonnafon or Kyle Bolin can step up initially, they could solidify their respective place as the starter for the full season. Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson may wait in the wings and ultimately be more talented than the former three, but who knows if he'll be able to catch on fast enough to grab the top job. If he can, it means he's a sure-fire upgrade at the position and the answer to last year's offensive problems.
At first glance, the defense looks gutted of its best players -- in particular, star safety Gerod Holliman and linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin -- who were chiefly responsible for the team's turnover and pass-rushing prowess, respectively. However, the Cardinals bring back five of the front seven and if you glance back at the secondary, you'll see a host of future pro talent. That's not to diminish last year's players or accomplishments at all. That's just to say there were questions about this defense last preseason too and that turned out just fine.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 7
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, K.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 25 percent
Very Early Outlook:
Maybe 25-percent is a bit optimistic? But that still means there's a 75-percent chance the Orange lose this matchup. For those looking for more proof of an SU loss beyond the above though, it's Syracuse's second straight tough road game (they're in Tallahassee to face Florida State the week before) and they get a Cardinals team on an extra day's rest. Louisville's most difficult games will all be several weeks behind them (Auburn, Clemson and Florida State are all done with by October 17), and whoever the QB is by that point will have plenty of experience to help them out. Never say never. It just seems that the odds are against Syracuse to pull this one off against a rising Cards squad.