The Syracuse Orange football season begins in 134 days. That seems like a long time, and it is. But given the excitement around the fan base for the start of the Dino Babers era, why not get going a little early on previews? We start with our opponents, which are just as difficult as ever. Each week, we'll take a look at a team on Syracuse's 2016 schedule. Today, we continue with the::
School: University of Louisville
#BRAND Slogan: "Louisville First, Cards Forever"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "No, it's PETRINO, with an R." "Voted Athletic Program With Most Upside 10 Years Running."
Recommended Blog: Card Chronicle. Duh.
Coach: Bobby Petrino, third/seventh year. Far richer than he was at this time last year, Petrino's second go-around at Louisville remains in good condition. Louisville dealt with injuries in 2015, but still managed eight wins against a difficult schedule. As a result, 2016 returns a bunch of experience, a slightly more manageable slate and a probable top-25 ranking to start the season. The Cardinals' offense still isn't at peak Petrino capabilities, but it's progressing further and further toward that end.
2015 Record: (8-5) (5-3)
Recapping Last Season:
Injuries led to a carousel of options at quarterback, with three players -- Lamar Jackson, Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin -- all seeing significant time. As a result, the offense sometimes struggled for consistency and never really found a true playmaker outside of the dual-threat Jackson. The team scored less than 30 points seven different times, and only finished middle of the road nationally in terms of total offense. That'll happen, however, when you're facing as many quality teams as the Cards did last year.
On top of the usual Atlantic slate of Florida State and Clemson, 'Ville added Houston, a pretty good Pittsburgh team and Texas A&M in the bowl game. They also faced a top-10 Auburn team to open the season, however, the Tigers would fall off pretty mightily as the season wore on. Louisville regularly found themselves locked in tight games, the only exceptions being its two blowout wins over Samford and (sigh) Syracuse, respectively. Despite a very rough 2-4 start, they rebounded to win six of their final seven contests.
Defensively, the Cardinals took a bit of a step back from 2014's excellent group, but that was to be expected given the volume of departures last offseason. Nonetheless, Louisville still finished 18th in total defense and 39th in scoring defense (24.1 points per game) -- numbers that most programs would take in a heartbeat. Louisville was tied for ninth in the entire country with 38 sacks, while their takeaways (26) were 21st-best.
2016 Season Outlook:
Louisville's outlook for 2016 is pretty damn good. The Cardinals theoretically face an easier schedule (subbing Marshall for Auburn), and won't pack every difficult opponent into a month-long stretch as they did last fall. They return 19 starters in total -- including all but one offensive player -- making this one of the country's most experienced groups. Experience is great, of course, but not without talent. Lucky for the Cards, they also have plenty of that. The defense returns two all-conference players in DeAngelo Brown and Keith Kelsey. QB Lamar Jackson also has potential to test Clemson's Deshaun Watson as the ACC's best quarterback.
Jackson's case will be helped or hurt by an experienced line in front of him. Last year, that crew allowed 44 sacks, which was the second-worst figure in the country, and accounted for the team's numerous injuries at the quarterback position. Four of five starters return from last year, which could help or harm your outlook, depending on which way you decide to look at it. While Louisville failed to find a consistent running back or standout receiver, there are plenty of names on the roster this year who could fit the bill. You'll likely be familiar with several of them. Running back Brandon Radcliff rushed for 117 yards on 10 carries against Syracuse last season, while Jamari Staples and James Quick each hauled in over 70 receiving yards in the 41-17 victory.
Louisville is pretty senior-heavy along the front-seven despite losing key names like Sheldon Rankins and James Burgess. Even without those players, the Cardinals return the large majority of their sacks from last year, while a young secondary brings back all but one interception (courtesy of the departed Jermaine Reve).
The Cards' season will be defined by what it does in games against top-ranked opponents Florida State, Clemson and Houston. Last year, they went 0-3 against the trio despite two of those games being at home. This year, two (Clemson, Houston) are on the road, which could potentially up the level of difficulty despite the easier slate of opponents overall. If Louisville can even grab one of those games, double-digit wins (and more) are on the table.
Syracuse Game Date: September 9, the second straight Friday game to start the year
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 20 percent
Very Early Outlook:
On the bright side, it can't go worse than last year when a mistake-filled blowout ended with Eric Dungey's life getting risked for a "comeback attempt" that was never going to happen in a million years. Syracuse will be better on offense solely by way of Dino Babers's new offense. So at the very least, expect more points than the measly 17 from 2015. But defensively... this is where SU's chances rise and fall. Louisville's offense will be better as long as Jackson can stay upright. The Orange were victimized by backup Kyle Bolin last year, and he wasn't even mobile. This isn't to say we're getting torn apart when Louisville comes to the Dome. But with all the returning talent on both sides of the ball, the Cardinals do seem primed for a win over an SU team still figuring out its identity in week two.