U of L Football Preview

08/24/2011 01:47 PM

University of Louisville Coach Charlie Strong will look to build on the his successful first season that saw the Cards end a three-year bowl drought. Here’s a look at what to expect from the Cardinals in 2011.

Head Coach: Charlie Strong (7-6 record at U of L and overall as head coach)
Assistant Coaches: Vance Bedford, defensive coordinator; Mike Sanford, offensive coordinator/tight ends; Dave Borbely, offensive line; Kenny Carter, running backs/special teams; Ron Dugans, wide receivers; Clint Hurtt, defensive line/recruiting coordinator; Brian Jean-Mary, linebackers; Larry Slade, secondary; Shawn Watson, quarterbacks; Pat Moorer, strength and conditioning.
Lettermen
Starters returning: 11 (four offense, seven defense).
Lettermen returning: 33 (15 offense, 16 defense, two special teams).
Players to watch: RB Victor Anderson, WR Josh Bellamy, TE Josh Chichester, C Mario Benavides, WR Andrell Smith, SS Hakeem Smith, LB Daniel Brown, FS Shenard Holton, LB Dexter Heyman, DT Brandon Dunn.
Strengths: The Cards have plenty of weapons at the skill positions. Anderson hopes to return to his freshman year form when he ran for 1,047 yards. The coaches think Bellamy is primed for a big senior year, and he and Smith form a nice 1-2 combo at wideout. The 6-foot-9 Chichester also appears ready to go out with a bang. Freshmen receivers DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers will also get some looks.
Defensively, the Cards should be strong in the front seven thanks to a deep line and an experienced linebacker corps.
Weaknesses: Just who will get the U of L playmakers the ball remains an issue. Will Stein will get the first call at quarterback. Stein is gritty, has a pretty good arm and has the respect of his teammates. But he’s only really about 5-foot-8. Freshman Teddy Bridgewater has the physical tools that Stein lacks but needs polish. An even bigger concern than the QB is the offensive line, who returns just one starter. The only real question mark on defense is cornerback, an area where true freshmen might be thrown to the wolves.

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

Louisville 56, Murray State 10-Card fans will have to scramble in order to get to Papa John’s on time for a 6 p.m. kickoff. No worries, though. By the second half there figures to be more folks partying in the terrace than in the stands watching the game.

Louisville 34, FIU 24-U of L will get tested in this pre-UK warmup. FIU was competitive against Rutgers, Texas A & M and Maryland last season and returns one of the country’s best non-BCS players in all-purpose threat T.Y. Hilton.

Kentucky 20, Louisville 13-Both teams have question marks, but in what should be a close, ugly, low-scoring game I’m going with the squad that has the A) more experienced quarterback, B) more experienced offensive line and C) home-field advantage.

Louisville 41, Marshall 14-Ten, fifteen years ago, this would have been a worrisome game for the Cards. But the Thundering Herd program is a shell of its former self.

North Carolina 30, Louisville 27-All the problems in Chapel Hill have made this game much more winnable than it appeared to be a couple of months ago. But the Tar Heels still have some NFL-caliber talent left over from the Butch Davis Era.

Cincinnati 38, Louisville 35-The Bearcats struggled in Butch Jones’ first year. But UC has arguably the league’s best QB in Zach Collaros, the league’s best RB in Isaiah Pead and perhaps the league’s deepest stable of receivers. The game will be played at Paul Brown Stadium and figures to be a shootout.

Louisville 31, Rutgers 10-Nov. 9, 2006. No. 15 Rutgers 28, No. 3 U of L 25. Greg Schiano was hot then. He should have gotten out when he had the chance, as the Scarlet Knight program has come back to reality.

Louisville 26, Syracuse 17-You’ve got to give Doug Marrone props for leading Syracuse to eight wins last season, but the Orange had a lot of balls bounce their way, too. Cards get this one at home.

West Virginia 38, Louisville 21-Nobody really knows how much of the offseason drama with Bill Stewart and Dana Holgorsen will carry over, but one thing’s for sure: Holgorsen knows offense. And he’s got a top-notch QB to work with in Geno Smith along with some home-run hitters at the skill positions. Plus the Cards have dropped seven of eight in Morgantown, the lone exception being a 9-7 win by Howard Schnellenberger’s 1990 squad that finished 10-1-1.

Pittsburgh 34, Louisville 31-I think Todd Graham was the perfect hire at Pitt. The program always had talent and played ‘D’ under coach Dave Wannstedt, but the offense was stagnant. Graham, an offensive guru at Rice and Tulsa, will take care of that, and Pitt is my pick to win the Big East. U of L will fight hard in this prime time Friday nighter at PJCS, but the Panthers will hold on late for the win.

Louisville 24, UConn 9-Randy Edsall was UConn football, and the hiring of Paul Pasqualoni didn’t do much to fire up me or the natives. There won’t be much in terms of fear factor either after U of L wiped the field (26-0) with last year’s UConn team that ended up winning the Big East. The Cards get the bowl-qualifying sixth win here.

USF 30, Louisville 21-Another Big East road venue that U of L hasn’t found much success. The Cards are 0-4 in Tampa, with three of the losses being blowouts. . I like the direction Skip Holtz is taking the Bulls and I think they’ll be too much for the Cards in this one.

Final summary: The Cards are probably a year away from challenging for the Big East title. If Strong and Co. can avoid taking a major step backwards and qualify for a second straight bowl, the program will have a lot of momentum going into 2012. The non-conference slate is manageable enough and the Big East is wide-open enough for the Cards to squeeze out six wins and another bowl bid.

Projected record: (6-6 overall, 3-4 Big East)

Bowl destination: BBVA Compass, Jan. 7, Birmingham, Ala. ESPN

Best Offensive player: Victor Anderson
Best Defensive Player: Hakeem Smith
Top Newcomer: DeVante Parker

Coming Thursday: University of Kentucky preview
Friday: Western Kentucky University and national preview

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