By: Chris Hatfield & Mark Blankenbaker
It’s August. The long-awaited College Football season is almost within our grasps. What August would be complete without writers trying to hopelessly predict the unpredictable College Football season? We’ve got your fix. Below, TheCrunchZone Co-Founder Mark Blankenbaker and TheCrunchZone Contributor Chris Hatfield make predictions about the 2013 Louisville Football Season.
Offensive MVP (Not named Teddy Bridgewater):
Obviously Heisman candidate – barring an injury – Teddy Bridgewater will be the Offensive MVP of the Louisville Football team. There is little to dispute that. Beyond Teddy Bridgewater, I say one of his many talented Wide Receiver’s will be the star of the offense. Devante Parker, appears to be poised for unbelievable campaign in 2013. Despite last year – a year in which 10% of his catches were TDs – Parker only caught caught 40 passes. Parker also fall just short of the 1,000 receiving yard mark. I expect that to change this year. Parker says he’s been working on speed and improved route running.
Count me in saying that Parker will surpass the 1,000 yard mark and receiving, possibly breaking the school record for TD receptions in a single season along the way. The only thing that will make this a bit difficult for Parker, is Teddy Bridgewater having so many weapons and just one football. However, I expect Bridgewater to air it out even more this season than in 2012 (over 56%). This will give Parker a maximum chance to make plays and he will.
Moving off Teddy Bridgewater, really leaves a host of options for offensive MVP. The stable of 5 running backs, the AFROS, emerging Tight Ends. But honestly I am not sure that any of those players will be able to STAND OUT due to the wide variety of weapons that Teddy will have at his disposal. Nothing will really work that well without the Offensive Line. It may not be a flashy position where we can measure statistics against other Offensive Lineman across the country. But the Louisville offensive line is going to make everything possible for the Cards in 2013. I’d rather not pick a single Offensive Lineman, they work as a unit, but Jamon Brown, John Miller, Jake Smith, Kamran Joyer, Ryan Mack/Nacho Garcia will be a huge part of the Louisville offensive success in 2013….even if they aren’t the ones winning the awards.
We had to wait a bit. But CB Terrell Floyd made some enormous plays en route to a successful finish to his Sophomore season. Floyd made three of the biggest interceptions last year for the Cardinals, including the one that became the iconic moment of the Sugar Bowl. I expect nothing but improvement from there. Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor draw the attention on the Louisville Defense (and for good reason), but I believe Floyd has flown under the radar, and is due for a huge Junior campaign. Floyd shown great maturation over the course of last year. Don’t believe me? Watch his coverage against North Carolina then watch the Rutgers game. His knowledge of the defense has improved at a drastic rate.
With Defensive Coordinator Vance Beford noting that he’ll play a more aggressive defense this season, Floyd will be out on ‘an island’ more often this season. Floyd said last season that he ‘liked that feeling’ noting that ‘the better man wins’ when that happens. Additionally, Floyd is arguably the best corner on the Louisville Football team. With a rapidly improving Defensive Back group including Charles Gaines, Jermaine Reve, and Andrew Johnson, defenses will be forced to throw the ball his way. Louisville is looking for a ‘shut-down’ corner after the departure of Adrian Bushell, I believe Floyd is next in line to become that.
Calvin Pryor gets my vote slightly over Preston Brown. As a Free Safety, Calvin Pryor has fantastic size and speed and really does a nice job of reading the offense and making tackles. Pryor played deep in coverage and was a security blanket for the defense in 2012. Still Pryor made 100 tackles, forced 5 fumbles, and had 2 INTs. I think Pryor is about to have a HUGE year and may even think about entering the 2014 NFL Draft a year early. This spot could easily go to Preston Brown, but I want to see Preston play with the fire he had in the Sugar Bowl and make more plays in the backfield/force turnovers. Right now that’s the main difference between Calvin Pryor and Preston Brown for Defensive MVP in my mind. Both should have fantastic seasons.
Perhaps I’m falling in the love with hype and if I am, then I’ll gladly admit I was wrong. But I believe RB Michael Dyer will be the breakout player this year for the Cardinals. Dyer may have somewhat of a troubled past. But, I’m not looking at that. What I am looking at is this: Back-to-Back 1,000 yard rushing seasons in the SEC, Breaking Bo Jackson’s Freshman rushing record, and Offensive Player of the Game award in the BCS National Championship. That type of talent doesn’t simply disappear. But what about him getting into ‘football shape’? I don’t worry about that. I don’t worry about that because of Pat Moorer. Additionally, I don’t worry about Dyer’s off the field problems for three reasons: I don’t believe his original transgressions were that ‘bad’, He’s ‘turned a new leaf’ according to those closest to him, and Strong has a pretty good track record with these type of guys.
The Louisville Coaching staff has preached about having a 1,000 yard rusher. I don’t know if Dyer will be that guy, I don’t say that because he will be that guy. I noted that to tell you that even with a decorated passing offense, there is still a strong emphasis on the rushing game. This will give Dyer plenty of opportunities at some point in the season. He is primed to do many things that make you say, ‘Woah’ in 2013. I expect those to be good things. The kid will have to learn to hate anything resembling blue though.
Honorable Mention: Charles Gaines, Lorenzo Mauldin, Ryan Hubbell
Lorenzo Mauldin. I am fond of a lot of our Cardinals. LOZO is a special Card. Mauldin is constantly praised by the coaching staff for his high motor, and watching him play his athleticism is evident. Unfortunately the first two years Mauldin’s inexperience was also readily obvious as well. Mauldin and his coaches have mentioned this off-season on several occasions about LOZO being dedicated to perfecting his craft and understanding how to play his position. I think Mauldin is set to break out in a huge way after injuries shortened his 22 tackle, 6.5 TFL, 4.5 Sack, 1 Forced Fumble, and 2 Forced Fumbles season in 2012.
This could also be the place where I talk up the potential of Charles Gaines as I have for the previous two seasons. I am so impressed by Gaines, but there is just no way I can praise the Charles Gaines I see in practice without seeing that same person arrive on game day.
Freshmen that will Impress:
It may not be immediate, but CB Richard Benjamin’s 4.4 speed will surely be utilized by the Cardinals coaching staff in 2013. Coming out of High School, Benjamin was rated as a 4 star recruit by ESPN. He’ll show why. Charlie Strong hinted that the CB position, was one that is featuring the most ‘intense’ position battles in Summer Camp. Could that mean that Benjamin could break his way into that rotation? Maybe. But even if not, I expect his speed and pure athleticism to be used somewhere on the field; perhaps in the Special Teams? Look for Benjamin to turn some heads.
The staple of Charlie Strong teams since his arrival has been that if freshman can help the Cards win games then those freshman will play. The assumption is that with the depth that the Cards have returning that 2013 will feature the fewest freshman to come in and make an impact, but I see a BUNCH of players who have the potential to make an impact right away. First, Brandon “Bad Rad” Radcliff is at an absolutely STACKED position, but he’s going to factor into the rotation and I really like his game. Pedro Sibiea has transformed his body and will be a part of the Defensive Tackle rotation. Devontre Parnell constantly gets mentioned as an emerging cornerback and has excellent size and speed. Nick Dawson is the #2 MLB and I think he’ll see some time at SAM just to get him on the field. Finessee Middleton is in a very competitive defensive end group, but he could find a niche as a pass rushing specialist if the staff decides to play him in 2013. Keith Towbridge has excellent size and athleticism at a need position with the Tight End group that has really struggled both in depth and production thus far. I look for Towbridge to factor in some jumbo/goal line sets. James Quick will probably make his most immediate impact at special teams an in the slot, it will be hard to keep Quick off the field for long.
There are several others guys that I could mention here, Richard Benjamin, Kyle Shortridge, James Hearns, Keith Kelsey, Lyn Clark, Hunter Bowles, and Joe Manley for example. The University of Louisville has stockpiled top-level talent and if this was 2011 most of the players mentioned are playing right away. Now there is time for development and a group of veteran mentors to help guide the young players along. This is probably the most important way the program has changed. I’m excited for NOW and I’m excited for the future of the program as well.
Louisville’s Defense will finish in the Top Ten of Overall Defense. It may seem crazy, particularly when you look at how underwhelming Louisville’s Defensive Line and Defensive Backs were for the better part of last season. But the Louisville defense has a few things working for them this season. Namely they will face few opponents that will be able to match their pure brute force. Most opponents that Louisville will face in 2013 will be simply smaller than Louisville. But also, DC Coordinator Vance Beford noted that the Louisville defense will be a bit different this year. In a dialogue that went over 20 minutes, he spoke over a variety of topics, but most notably that he’ll be more aggressive this season. Expect to see more blitzing, possibly leading to more sacks or more forced turnovers. When I spoke to DT Brandon Dunn at Media Day about Louisville’s defense last year, he used words like ’embarrassing’, ‘sad’ and said the Louisville Defense was out to prove itself this season. Couple the Louisville Defense’s need for redemption with an aggressive style, and I think it spells doom for opposing teams.
Teddy Bridgewater will win the Heisman Trophy. The Landscape for Bridgewater to land the biggest individual prize in college football couldn’t be more perfectly set in the pre-season. Not only is Bridgewater’s game and ability more than worthy of the honor, but his off-the field persona and activities will endear Teddy to Heisman voters across the country. In addition, Bridgewater’s competition is definitely manageable. Last year’s winner may or may not play due to a myriad of off-the field issues, and even if Johnny Manziel does play in 2013 he’s lost the ‘feel good story’ element. Since Johnny Manziel was awarded the Heisman there has been an avalanche of stories about Manziel’s bad behavior, hot temper, over-sleeping, autograph signings, fraternity party ejections, and ill-advised tweets. Bridgewater meanwhile doesn’t get recognized at Olive Garden (his favorite restaurant).
Alabama Running Back T.J. Yeldon and Ohio State Quarterback Braxton Miller will also be in the running throughout, but Teddy’s biggest challenger will likely be South Carolina Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney. The competition hasn’t begun yet, but I think Teddy is going to be incredible in 2013 and his final stage before voting will be on the road against what I expect to be a nationally ranked (and possibly undefeated) Cincinnati team. That is the type of late-season stage that Heisman candidates need to have to leave a lasting impression before going into vote. If Teddy remains healthy, if the Bearcats are nationally ranked, and if the Cards can beat UC in the finale I believe Teddy Bridgewater will win the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
Final Record and Bowl Game Prediction:
As much as I’d like to be in Pasadena in January. Because, well…Pasadena. I don’t see it happening. I predict a 12-0 record by Louisville and a second straight Sugar Bowl appearance. There are certain realities that must be faced. One of those realities is that 7 (maybe 6) of the 8 teams ranked ahead of Louisville need two losses for the Cards to get the nod over them. That’s unprecedented. The talking heads will be throwing out every reason the Cards shouldn’t be in the National Championship if they sit undefeated at the end of the season. I’m not ruling out a chance for the Cardinals, because it could happen. However, I believe the scenario presented above is more likely.
Undefeated is HARD. The Cards haven’t won every game on the schedule since 1925 (88 years ago). One might say, ‘UofL is due” for an undefeated season. But Card fans have witnessed two potential undefeated seasons in 2004 & 2006 collapse with single plays going the wrong way and causing a loss. Across the landscape of college football really good football teams throw in a ‘clunker’ over the course of 12 games. Just 14 teams have gone without a blemish since 2000, and the 2003, 2007, and 2011 seasons came and went without a single team going unbeaten. IF Louisville can go unbeaten I think they will be the ONLY undefeated team in college football in 2013 and get a chance to play for the national championship. But I think (odds being what they are) that the Cards will drop one game to finish 11-1. The Orange Bowl gets first pick, followed by Sugar, followed by Fiesta. I don’t think the Sugar Bowl will pass up an opportunity on the Cards, and Louisville will closeout the 2013 season January 2, 2014 against an SEC opponent.
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