With the demise of the Big East Conference as we had come to know it on June 30th, arises the “new and improved” American Athletic Conference. Before we start the fan guide let’s just make one thing perfectly clear, I know what all of you are thinking at the moment, ‘thank goodness we only have one more year until we make our giant leap into the vastly superior Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).’ I for one believe you are justified to feel that way, because we have come a long way from playing at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center as you all know. But first things first, we have big-time business to take care of in our first and only season in “The American.” After the domination of the Florida Gators down on the bayou in the 2013 Sugar Bowl just 8 short months ago, expectations for our 2013 Louisville Football team are at an all-time high, and for good reasons. We will take a look at some of the key returning players, as well as some of the new additions that you should keep your eye on during the 2013 season.
We kick off the 2013 Fan Guide with two words, Teddy Bridgewater! If you are reading this article and you are thinking to yourself, ‘who is Teddy Bridgewater?’ Then you might want to take a peek at this gem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxA8zqa6MEg. It may take you a while to gather your jaw up from off the floor, so I will wait….Teddy Heisman, as you may hear him referred to, is as humble and likeable as any topflight college prospect in the country has been in some time, unlike a certain QB who has been in the news as of late. From spending time with young patients at Kosair Children’s Hospital to taking time out of his day to throw the ole’ pigskin with young kids at Cardinal Football camps, Teddy has created a legacy that will forever stand the test of time amongst the other great Cardinals of history. Without the Davey O’Brien Award, Maxwell Award, and Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list nominee under center the past two seasons, the Cardinals very well could have seen drastically different outcomes in many games. But with him back under center and poised to have his best season as a Card, all fans should be thinking only one thing: Domination!
If we can keep Teddy from sustaining a major injury throughout the season and our defense plays every game like they are capable (i.e The Sugar Bowl), then there is no reason for us not to go undefeated during the regular season. The only remaining question after that would be whether or not we could get a shot at playing in the BCS National Championship or if our strength of schedule would relegate us to yet another Sugar or Orange Bowl. By the way, I am not complaining about going to another Sugar or Orange Bowl by any means, I love Bourbon Street and South Beach both equally. It is just that this Louisville Football team has the ability to be unbelievably special and I would not want for us to miss out on the chance of a lifetime opportunity of playing in a BCS National Championship. As Coach Schnellenberger once said so eloquently, “The University of Louisville is on a collision course with the National Championship. The only variable is time.” That time seems like it could be now!
Another player that we can all agree is a beast would be none other than the Biletnikoff Award watch list nominee and Louisville’s very own DeVante Parker, if not maybe this play against in last year’s Keg of Nails victory will change your mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AghgOmtJ_ew. Ever since the very first game DeVante played in a Cardinal uniform just 2 short years ago, I think we could all see the talent that he has on the outside at Wide Receiver. Plain and simple, all DeVante does is catch touchdowns with 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons. With Teddy and DeVante both poised to have breakout junior seasons, the offense could be as explosive and dangerous as any offense we have ever seen at Louisville, especially with all of the other talented offensive playmakers. That would be saying a lot when you think back to how well the Petrino era Louisville teams of the mid-2000s were on offense. With so many weapons at Wide Receiver by way of DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers, Jarrett Davis, Kai De La Cruz, the return of Michaelee Harris, along with transfers Robert Clark (Florida) and Matt Milton (Tennessee), and incoming freshman James Quick, we have never seen so many great receivers wearing the Louisville uniform at the same time. With all of that being said, Teddy should be able to put up monster numbers the likes we have never seen before this coming fall.
Now we move on to probably the most interesting position on the offensive side of the ball going into fall camp, the Running Back position. With the return of junior Dominique Brown, who missed all of 2012 with a strained knee, the Cardinals will again have a loaded backfield. That is, as along as senior Senorise Perry who was Louisville’s leading rusher in 2012, until an unfortunate knee injury in the Syracuse game, can return to his 2012 midseason form. If in fact, Senorise is fully healed and ready to go early in 2013, then that would most certainly give Louisville a one-two punch, with Brown as the power back and Perry as the homerun threat out of the backfield. Also, both backs have been nominated for the prestigious Doak Walker Award which goes to the top running back in the country; having two backs on the same time to be nominated is just plain silly, in a good way. This combination along with sophomore Corvin Lamb and redshirt freshman Brandon Radcliff would give the Cardinals offense many weapons in the running and screen game that Teddy and Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson love so much, and for good reason. But when talking about the backfield, we cannot forget about the big guys at Fullback. Senior B.J. Butler, sophomore Jalen Harrington, and walk-ons Tyler Sharp and Jarel McGriff-Culver will need to play a vital role within the running and passing game if the Cardinals want to be successful and go undefeated in 2013.
The only skilled position that we have not covered would be that of an underappreciated group of pass catchers, which would be the Tight Ends. The Tight Ends seem to be the group that I think will surprise a lot of people this year with their ability to stretch the middle of the field, opening up space on the outside for the Wide Receivers, as well as blocking for the running game. The leader of the group in my mind will be the Florida transfer, junior Gerald Christian. For one thing, Gerald was not the number two ranked Tight End by Rivals.com coming out of high school in 2010 for no reason; he is an absolute freak of an athlete who can block one play and then run you over on the way to the end-zone the next. The Tight End position is not just Christian though; you have senior Ryan Hubbell who was very productive in his time last year as a Cardinal and then do not sleep on redshirt freshman Zeke Pike. The one time Auburn Quarterback transferred back to his home state after a run in with the law in Alabama. Coach Charlie Strong and staff seem to have gotten Zeke on the straight and narrow since he has been on campus and I personally believe he could be in a position to breakout this fall.
At this moment, we will now transition to the big maulers in trenches. With Mario Benevides and Alex Kupper both graduating and moving on from the football team, the biggest question marks on the offensive line are at Center and Left Tackle. Both of those questions seemed to find an answer this past spring and both positions will be manned by previous offensive line starters. Jake Smith will move from Right Guard and take over the starting Center duties and big Jamon Brown will move from Right to Left Tackle. Overall, the starting offensive line barring injuries should look like this: LT – Jamon Brown (2 year starter – junior), LG – John Miller (2 year starter – junior), C – Jake Smith (2 year starter – junior), RG – Kamran Joyer (senior), and RT – Abraham “Nacho” Garcia (sophomore). That offensive line by looks alone is very, very solid and with backups like sophomores Ryan Mack and Mike Roman and redshirt freshmen T.C. Klusman and Joe Manley the offensive line position is in outstanding shape this year and in the future.
Now we turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball and with that we are going to start with the defensive line. As evident by their play in the Sugar Bowl against Florida, the defensive line came to play big-time and I think we all saw what we are capable of doing at all times this coming season. I feel like we saw the reins were loosened in the Sugar Bowl and I think we can count on that being the case from now on. We will begin by looking at the pass rushers and you cannot not start this section without beginning with the trio of Marcus Smith, Lorenzo “Lozo” Mauldin, and Deiontrez “Trez’ Mount. These three combined for 11 of the teams 22 total sacks and 17.5 total tackles for loss. With even more opportunities to rush the passer this coming season, look for this trio given that they stay healthy to absolutely obliterate their 2012 season totals. But when talking about the Defensive Line, you cannot forget about Jamaine “Louie Maine” Brooks, Louisville’s own Brandon Dunn, and Lexington’s Roy Philon. These three can create just as much havoc on the opponents rushing games as the pass rushers can to teams passing games. Some new faces that you may hear this upcoming season on the defensive line are freshman De’Asian Richardson and Kyle Shortridge, as well as redshirt freshman Pedro Sibiea and Nick Dawson-Brents. The trenches are where games are most undoubtedly decided and with the way our defense has been built over the past several years, we certainly have a distinct advantage over many of the teams’ offensive lines that we will face this fall.
With that we move to Linebacker, where the core group may be the strongest it has been since Coach Strong and staff took over 4 years ago. The Cards will again have Lombardi and Butkus Award watch list nominee Preston Brown back as the Quarterback of the defense for the fourth year in a row. It is rare that you find a four-year starter in the college ranks anymore, but Preston is that man. He will be saddled alongside with two sophomores in Keith “Bam” Brown and James Burgess, both of whom proved themselves in 2012 as true freshman. But with any position, especially Linebacker, you need quality backups. In this case, we have a former starter and special team captain that we can call upon when needed. Last year’s starting SAM Linebacker, senior George Durant is now the backup MIKE Linebacker along with senior Deon Rogers who has been a mainstay on special teams, is now the backup WILL Linebacker. I do feel that Rogers may just breakout in this, his senior campaign. Furthermore, I would alert you to be on the lookout for two true freshman Linebackers, James Hearns and Keith Kelsey, both of whom could be key contributors in the fall.
Now the fun can really begin, we move to the secondary and boy oh boy are there some stars here. Let us just begin with this beauty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMDpkVWWax8. Terell Floyd wasn’t expected to do very much in his sophomore season, but boy did he ever turnout to be one of the bigger surprises in the 2012 season. He saved the Sugar Bowl clinching game versus Rutgers with an interception and then on the very next defensive snap in the Sugar Bowl he picked of Florida Quarterback Jeff Driskel and took it to the house. Alongside Terell, you have Mr. President Andrew “Lockdown” Johnson at the other corner position. With this dynamic duo manning the corners, it only makes the safeties that much more dangerous and we are already aware of how effective they have been for the past two campaigns. When beginning to mention the two starting safeties, I believe it is significant to mention how important the Thorpe and Nagurski Award watch list nominee Hakeem Smith has been to the Cardinals defense as the starting Strong Safety for the past 3 seasons. Again, like I stated with Preston Brown it is completely rare to find one 4 year college starter, let alone two 4 year starters on the same defense. Along with Hakeem, you also have another Thorpe Award watch list nominee in Calvin Pryor who is beginning his third season as the starter at Free Safety. Calvin has been as solid as anyone could want from a college safety to be because he regularly makes the spectacular defensive plays, yet he always seems to be in position to make the routine plays look so simple.
With the 4 defensive starters entrenched in their positions, let us take a look at who we could see breakout this season amongst the reserves. The first name that comes to my mind would have to be that of sophomore Jermaine Reve and how well he played in the Sugar Bowl at both the Nickel Cornerback and in Safety situations. Jermaine’s versatility will serve an otherwise thin secondary, based on numbers, well in all aspects. Another big name that all Cardinal fans cannot wait to get a real look at would unquestionably be sophomore Gerod Holliman and whether or not he can prove himself to be the hire apparent to Pryor at Free Safety. If Holliman can show the glimpses of what we all know he can do, then the secondary will be in fine hands moving forward. At the same time you have another sophomore in Cornerback Charles Gaines, who obviously has the talent and techniques to succeed, but it remains to be seen whether or not he finally has gotten his head on straight. If Charles can prove he has put his past troubles behind him, then lookout for another weapon in the secondary.
What can I say about our special teams, other than that to go 13-0 in 2013 we need the special teams to be so much better than they were in 2012. We can begin by saying that Placekicker is a position of absolute certainty with Groza Award watch list nominee, sophomore John Wallace back for his second season as starter. Last season Wallace was a solid 16-21 on field goal attempts and 38-42 on extra point attempts. The only thing that I would say that Wallace needs to improve is to get more height on the extra points because the 4 misses were low line drive kicks, but that is me just nitpicking. Then we have the punting position which switched from Joshua Appleby to walk-on Ryan Johnson after 3 games in 2012. The punting position was very inconsistent last season, but with Johnson’s strong spring game I believe he has finally grasped complete control of the position and will show why in 2013.
Then we get to the return game and with that I have a two word answer for our entire kickoff and punt return woes, and that would be James Quick and this is why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3asH-o3UCk. James has the speed to be a homerun threat in the slot on offense, as well as the agility and explosiveness to be the dangerous kickoff and punt return man that we have sorely lacked the past two seasons. With better field position supplied by Mr. Quick, Teddy will lead the Cardinals to more touchdown drives, and you can mark that down! Another area of weakness that we all saw last year was that of the kickoff return defense. In 2012, Louisville routinely allowed their opponents to have starting field position around the 35-40 yard line and that is just unacceptable. But looking on the bright side, if we see more of the way the kick return defense played in the Sugar Bowl in 2013 then we should be just fine.
As we wrap up the 2013 Fan Guide to Louisville Football I will leave you with this, the 2013 season has all the makings of being just as special as our 2012 National Champion basketball teams’ season. With the talent that the Cards return and the newcomers who are poised to breakout on the scene, I think we can all agree on two things: 1) We all cannot wait until September 1st to see our Cardinal football team take the field for the first time against Ohio in “The Oven” for the season opener and 2) We sure as heck cannot wait to be in the ACC in 2014! Go Cards!
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