Louisville Football Predictions
After failing to record a winning season in three years under Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville has posted back-to-back winning seasons under Charlie Strong.
Last season, Strong’s Cardinals earned a share of the Big East title with a 5-2 mark and finished 7-6 overall. They are expected to contend for the conference crown again in 2012.
The Cardinals finished seventh in the Big East (103rd nationally) in total offense in 2011 with 333.0 yards per game. They finished last in the league in scoring (98th nationally) with 21.9 points per contest. These numbers are more representative of last year’s early struggles. The Cards showed what the offense is capable of when it scored 27 points or more in four of its last five regular-season game.
Big things are expected from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who dazzled at times as a true freshman. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,129 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
He has no shortage of weapons to throw to. Wide receivers Eli Rogers, DeVonte Parker and Michaelee Harris all have the ability to make plays. Rogers hauled in 41 passes last season to lead the team in receptions. Harris’ 455 receiving yards were tops on the squad. Parker led the Cardinals with six touchdown catches.
The running back position is in good hands as well with Dominique Brown, Jeremy Wright, Corvin Lamb and Senorise Perry. Brown, who rushed for 533 yards and four scores in 2011, is the team’s top returning rusher.
With four offensive lineman returning, the Louisville offense appears ready to pick up where it left off last season.
While the offense struggled early in 2011, the defense carried the load. The stop unit ranked second in the Big East in both total and scoring defense with 327.9 yards and 20.1 points allowed per game. Those numbers were good for 23rd and 17th, respectively, on a national scale.
The Cardinals were especially stingy against the run. They ranked 10th in the country with 100.5 rushing yards allowed per contest. The run defense should remain solid with junior tackles Roy Philon and Brandon Dunn eating up space inside.
Ends Lorenzo Mauldin and Marcus Smith have emerged as legitimate pass rushers. Smith had 5.5 sacks last year.
Linebacker Dexter Heyman, who led the team in tackles, tackles for loss and interceptions, will be missed. Strong is counting on upperclassmen Preston Brown and Daniel Brown to pick up the slack. If they aren’t getting the job done, he likely won’t hesitate to play highly regarded freshman Kieth Brown, James Burgess Jr. and Nick Dawson.
Louisville’s pass defense, which gave up 227.4 yards per game last year, was good by Big East standards but ranked a mediocre 68th nationally. The Cardinals could improve against the pass this season as all four starters return.
Strong safety Hakeem Smith, who is the team’s top returning tackler with 84 stops, is a great stick. Adrian Bushell is the squad’s best cover corner.
Big East Prediction: 1st Place
I only see Louisville moving forward under Strong. After consecutive seven-win campaigns, I believe it could be poised for its first season with 10-plus wins since 2006.
I don’t see a game on the schedule the Cardinals can’t win. Even if they lose their two tough conference road contests against Pittsburgh and Rutgers, I like their chances of at least winning a share of the league with a 5-2 mark.
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