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Syracuse football 2017 opponent preview: Louisville Cardinals

We revisit the night that we’d like to forget.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange football offseason continues, but we’ve found plenty to discuss in the meantime. In this series, we’ve been diving into each of SU’s 12 (very difficult) opponents and all you’ll need to know about them. Despite the challenges of the schedule, we’re going to be as positive as possible. Today’s team:

Louisville Cardinals

School: University of Louisville

Mascot: Cardinals

#BRAND Slogan: “Louisville First, Cards Forever”

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “Make sure that marker’s down before you snap the ball or else.” “The basketball team did the bad stuff, not us.”

Recommended Blog: Card Chronicle

Conference: ACC

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Louisiana State vs Louisville Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Coach: Bobby Petrino, 4th year (8th year). Petrino’s been at this awhile since he graduated Carroll College, where he played quarterback) in 1983. He hopped right into the coaching scene afterward. First as a graduate assistant at Carroll, then at Weber State. Petrino worked his way up on the offensive side of the ball through Idaho, Arizona State, Nevada, Utah State, Louisville, the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and Auburn. He finally got his first head coaching gig with Louisville in 2003.

In four years, he built the Cardinals into a top-20 program and a conference title contender in two different leagues (Conference USA and the Big East). U of L finished in the top 10 twice on his first go-around, while taking home an Orange Bowl title in ‘06. He bailed for the Atlanta Falcons after that, but didn’t even last a year there before he was back in the college ranks (at Arkansas this time). His tenure with the Razorbacks ended abruptly in 2012, after he ended up in a motorcycle accident with a young female member of the athletics staff (Jessica Dorrell). It was revealed the two were actually romantically involved, an announcement which aided in his firing.

Petrino worked his way back pretty quickly, taking the Western Kentucky job for the 2013 season, then parlaying that into a return to Louisville for 2014. Since he resumed as Cardinals’ coach, he’s gone 26-13, finished in the top 25 twice and coached last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson. Not a bad return at all.

2016 Record: (9-4) (7-1)

Recapping Last Season:

Last season started with a bang, as Louisville reeled off four straight wins by staggering margins. We recall one, a 62-28 win over Syracuse, most of all. But the rest of the country probably remembers the follow week’s victory a bit more. Hosting ESPN College Gameday, the Cardinals beat Florida State by a score of 63-20 and threw themselves directly into the national title race. A close loss to Clemson two weeks later didn’t take them out of the running, though a blowout November defeat at Houston did.

As you know, Jackson took home the Heisman Trophy last year, and his numbers were staggering in the process. Jackson passed for over 3,500 yards with 30 touchdowns, while rushing for another 1.571 yards and 21 scores in the process. Louisville’s offense was third best in the country in terms of yards per game, and sixth in points per game (42.5). Prior to the team’s three-game losing streak to end the season, ‘Ville scored 32 points or more in nine of 10 games (and scored 24 in the other). After that, 10, 38 and 9 points -- all in defeats.

As much as the Cardinals’ offense grabbed the headlines, however, the defense was just as capable, if not more so. They were 14th in yards per game allowed, and had the 12th-best rushing defense in the country. Louisville also allowed just seven rushing scores on the year (second-best in the country), and only nine runs of 20 or more yards (fourth-best). The 84 rushing first downs allowed were the 11th-best figure in the FBS. Syracuse didn’t run the ball too well against the Cards last year, which you likely remember.

NCAA Football: Louisville Spring Game Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

2017 Season Outlook:

Lamar Jackson’s back, and that automatically lends Louisville a bit of an assist if they stand a chance at winning the Atlantic Division. Granted, Jackson doesn’t have all of his help back. There’s no Brandon Radcliff (903 yards, six TDs) at running back, though senior Jeremy Smith does return. Louisville’s top three receivers -- James Quick, Cole Hikutini and Jamari Staples -- have all departed. So they’ll rely on Jaylen Smith, Reggie Bonnafon, and a host of others to pick up the slack there.

Defensively, the story’s much different as a good portion of last year’s production (80 percent) returns. Every starter is a junior or senior, and experienced ones at that. Lead tackler Keith Kelsey departs, but seven of the next 10 are back. That list includes linebacker James Hearns (10 tackles for loss), DE Drew Bailey (nine TFLs), cornerback Jaire Alexander (five interceptions) and safety Chucky Williams (three INTs).

The schedule could prove to be slightly tougher than last year’s, especially at the front end. Louisville faces Purdue in Indianapolis to open the year, then goes on the road to North Carolina the next. The Cardinals host Clemson after that, before consecutive non-conference bodybag games. Three of four on the road against NC State, Florida State and Wake Forest, respectively, in October present another big test. Closing with SU and Kentucky (the latter on the road) also presents two more stiff tests.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 18

Location: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, K.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 20 percent

Very Early Outlook:

Louisville’s defense provides a difficult test, but as you’ll recall, Syracuse actually fared pretty well against them in 2016 (414 total yards, and the Orange put up 28 points in three quarters). So more than that side of the ball, the concern should revolve around how much SU can slow down the Cardinals offense. If they get caught in another shootout, it would be difficult for Syracuse to keep up with Louisville’s speed. Expect something similar to last year, with ‘Ville pulling away in the second half after a reasonably close (a couple TDs) game.