In exactly 100 days, the 2013 Sugar Bowl Champions will once again step foot on the gridiron. A near-unanimous preseason top 10 pick, the Louisville Cardinals will start the 2013 season with arguably the most talented and hyped team in the program’s history. The hype really began after underdog Louisville took the field against heavily favored Florida in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, and starting with the first 10 seconds of play, absolutely throttled the Gators. It was Cardinal domination from start to finish, and Florida coach Will Muschamp can lie all he wants about how Florida lost the game as opposed to Louisville winning it. Facts are facts. The better team won that night, and won big. After causing a nervous breakdown for every Louisville fan when he nearly left for Tennessee, coach Charlie Strong outcoached Will Muschamp in every aspect of the game. It was such a one-sided coaching affair, one might have thought it was Nick Saban coaching against Steve Kragthorpe. Now, that same Louisville coach will lead several returning members of that same Louisville team onto the field on September 1st as the Cards take on Frank Solich’s Ohio Bobcats. The biggest obstacle for the Cards this season is an incredibly soft schedule, at least in the eyes of the BCS, and they will truly be moving against the current in hopes of reaching the BCS National Championship game.
There have been few Louisville teams that have been as talented and deep as the one fans will see this fall. It is the first year people can officially stop saying Louisville is “young and talented” and just say “talented.” The players Strong recruited who had/have so much talent now also have the experience to go along with it. Players like Heisman Trophy contender Teddy Bridgewater, DeVante Parker and Preston Brown all return as seasoned, veteran players who all appear well on their way to playing at the next level. Louisville returns a large chunk of its key contributors from last season, and it is easier to list who is gone rather than who is returning. On offense Center and team leader Mario Benavides is gone, as are left tackle Alex Kupper, wide receiver Scott Radcliff, running back Jeremy Wright and tight end Nate Nord. The defense loses a major playmaker in defensive back Adrian Bushell along with linebacker Daniel Brown. That is it. That is what the Cards lose. The rest of the team returns, and oh yeah, here is who the team gains. Florida transfers Gerald Christian and Robert Clark are now eligible at tight end and wide receiver, and each is expected to have big years. In place of Kupper, the Cards will insert the massive Abraham “Nacho” Garcia, who looked great in limited time last year and has the ability to be an elite left tackle. Auburn transfer Zeke Pike, who has had several off-the-field issues that led to his transfer, will try to put his troubled past in the rearview mirror as he lines up on the other side of Christian at tight end. While the Cards do lose a solid back in Wright, they welcome back Dominique Brown from injury, as well as bruising redshirt freshman Brandon Radcliff. Fans will also likely see more of speedy home run threat Corvin Lamb and hope to see 2012 leading rusher Senorise Perry back and healthy from an ACL injury. Then there is Michaelee Harris, who has an uphill battle as he tries to come off of his 3rd serious knee injury in 2 years. He will not need to be a superstar, but if he can come back at even 75% of what he was, it will make the WR corps that much more dangerous. The biggest questions will be concerning center and defensive back, where the Cards will try to make up for the loss of Benavides and Bushell.
Due to the depth and experience of the current roster, this will be the first year where Strong and staff will not need to rely on the immediate impact of multiple incoming freshman. That does not mean that a select few will not help the team, though. On defense, both incoming freshman linebacker Lyn Clark and incoming freshman defensive tackle Finesse Middleton have been making a name for themselves in offseason workouts. Other freshmen who have not yet arrived, such as defensive end De’Asian Richardson and defensive back Richard Benjamin, have the talent to make immediate contributions as well. The big name fans are going to look out for, though, is Louisville’s own James Quick, the highest rated recruit to ever commit to the Cards. The highly talented and speedy Quick, who was named MVP of the prestigious Army All-American game this past January, is expected to be a part of the team’s plans this season. In a crowded group of wide receivers, he is really going to have to distinguish himself in training camp to take playing time away from guys like Parker, Clark, Damian Copeland and Eli Rogers, but he does have the talent to do so. At the very least, he could become a dynamic return man, an area in which the Cards have struggled in during the Strong era.
The most depressing aspect of the upcoming season is the fact that due to conference affiliation and a weak out-of-conference schedule, the chances of Louisville being considered for the national championship are about the same as Teddy Bridgewater coming back for his senior season. It is not due to lack of effort, as the program bent over backwards trying to schedule an out-of-conference game against Texas A&M, Alabama, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin, but came up short after every attempt. After Boise State bailed on the new Big East, or American Athletic Conference as it is now being called, the Cards’ highest touted opponent will be Ohio. The one without the “State” at the end of it. That does not bode well for the Cards. In order for the team to get stronger consideration, it will need to completely blow out everyone on the schedule and hope teams like Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida are all better than advertised. It also would not hurt if Alabama and/or Ohio State had major collapses, but the chances of that happening are also slim. The lone good thing about this for fans is that the team will not be able to afford to take their foot off the pedal this season if they want serious postseason consideration. Fans were…well…let’s say less than thrilled when Strong decided to call the game mid-3rd quarter against a Kentucky team whose team and fanbase had been obnoxiously running their mouths for no reason. That cannot and will not happen this season against UK or anyone, so expect some offensive fireworks and hard-nosed, punch-you-in-the-mouth defense.
No, the schedule is not exactly “marquee.” Yes, the chances of a national championship are slim. But guess what? Charlie Strong turned down big money at not just a big time SEC program, but one of the most traditional programs in the country whose fans would fill up their massive stadium in a hurricane if the team was playing Akron. He turned that down for Louisville, seeing the bright future and the faith he had in the program and in the fanbase. Do not make him regret that. Show up to the games. Pack the house and remember what the man sacrificed and understand how special this team is. At the very least, it is an opportunity to see several future NFL players, including a possible no. 1 pick, dominate team after team on their way to another BCS bowl. Remember where the program will be next season. Better yet, remember where this program was 4 years ago. Things could be a lot worse. Support the team. Football season: get here already.