Coach: Bobby Petrino (50-13, entering sixth season; 92-34 overall)
2014 record: 9-4, 5-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference; tied for third in Atlantic Division
Look back: Was Bobby Petrino’s homecoming season at Louisville a success or a letdown? It’s hard to say. The Cardinals went from 23-3 during their final two seasons under Charlie Strong — who left for Texas — to 9-4 during Petrino’s first year back with the program since 2006. Louisville had to replace quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a first-round draft pick in 2014, and adopted Petrino’s complex pro-style offense while adapting to its first season in the ACC. The Cardinals overcame a slew of injuries to the offensive side of the ball and fielded a top-ranked defense (6th nationally with 308.5 yards allowed per game) to go 5-3 in conference, but probably underachieved given that 10 players from the program were drafted in 2015.
Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 4
Defensive starters lost: 7
Key losses: WR DeVante Parker, OL Jamon Brown, OL John Miller, DE/LB Lorenzo Mauldin, DB James Sample, RB Michael Dyer, WR Eli Rogers, TE Gerald Christian, LB Deiontrez Mount, DB Charles Gaines, DL B. J. Dubose, DB Gerod Holliman
Top returnees: LB Keith Kelsey, LB James Burgess, QB Will Gardner, DE Sheldon Rankins, RB Brandon Radcliff, WR James Quick, QB Reggie Bonnafon,
Strengths: The offense is without its top playmaker — wide receiver De’Vante Parker, a first-round draft pick — but has a handful of proven skill-position players to rely on, most notably running back Brandon Radcliff (6 TDs in his final 4 games) and receiver James Quick (566 receiving yards, 3 TDs).
Louisville’s attacking defense (10th nationally with 3.15 sacks per game) loses edge rushers like Lorenzo Mauldin, Deiontrez Mount and B. J. Dubose (16.5 combined sacks), but the Cardinals still feature one of the best defensive fronts in the ACC. Linebackers Keith Kelsey and James Burgess are known to wreak havoc (158 combined tackles, 17 combined tackles for loss) while 300-pound end Sheldon Rankins can set the edge or get to the passer (8 sacks).
Weaknesses: Louisville led the country in interceptions (26) last year, although it must replace safety Gerod Holliman, who had 14 picks. In fact, the Cardinals do not replace one starter in the secondary, which is obviously problematic. The good news for Louisville is that it has talented transfers Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons to build around.
Quarterback is a question mark, although few coaches can get as much from their signal callers as Petrino. Will Gardner (1,669 passing yards, 12 TDs to 3 INTs) was last year’s starter, although he’s making his way back from a knee injury that kept him sidelined this spring. Sophomore Reggie Bonnafon (5 TDs to 4 INTs, passer rating of 118.39) struggled last year but there is buzz around the program that he will take a big step forward this season.
Outlook: Louisville should be good enough on defense to give teams like Clemson and FSU all they can want and more, but Petrino’s offense must show significant growth before the Cardinals can climb the ladder in the ACC. Another nine-win season is realistic.
Sep. 5 vs. Auburn*
Sep. 12 vs. Houston
Sept. 17 vs. Clemson
Sep. 26 vs. Samford Bulldogs
Oct. 3 at NC State
Oct. 17 at FSU
Oct. 24 vs. Boston College
Oct. 30 at Wake Forest
Nov. 7 vs. Syracuse
Nov. 14 vs. Virginia
Nov. 21 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 28 at Kentucky
* at Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com