Sunday, June 24, 2007

SESB Preseason Top 25: 17. Louisville

17. Louisville
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Keep in mind, these rankings are representative of what I think/hope the final Top 25 will look like in January, not which are the most talented teams. There's no question that Louisville is better than the 17th most talented team in the country. And there's no question that their Big East schedule will once again give them great opportunities to make a legitimate National Championship run. But let's examine what it will take to get them there...

Last year, the Cardinals were a late collapse at Rutgers away from playing for it all against Ohio State. And, based on what you actually saw in the National Championship game, who's to say that they couldn't have won it? The Cardinals still won the Big East and finished 12-1, beating Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl. For the last two years, the Cardinals have been at the forefront of the national picture in September, and keep coming up short. It was three overtimes against West Virginia in 2005 that did them in, and last year it was Rutgers. Winning the Big East has been done, and isn't enough to claim a truly successful season in the final campaign of Brian Brohm. Cardinal fans have seen the conference title and now they've seen the BCS victory - though granted, beating Wake Forest, despite their remarkable season last year, isn't as impressive as your average BCS victory. For the Cards, it's once more time to seriously think about winning it all.

Ladies and gentlemen, may we present the best passing offense in college football. We start with Brohm, a senior and a Heisman frontrunner, as well as a potential #1 pick in next April's NFL Draft. In his third year as a stater, Brohm will have a chance to go down in U of L lore, and while he won't catch Chris Redman as the all-time passing leader and he's not Johnny Unitas, he can lead the program to the promised land that Redman, Dave Ragone, and Stefan LeFors couldn't take them to. Brohm is arguably the best quarterback in college football, and by season's end you may be able to remove the arguably part.
But it's not just Brohm that makes this the most dangerous passing attack in the nation. 6'6" Mario Urrutia and 5'11" Harry Douglas return - who are not only part of the best passing attack, but have the best 1-2 name combination of any wide receiver duo, perhaps ever. Seriously, that's a new fall pilot just waiting to happen. Douglas and Urrutia - they're taking back the streets of Louisville. Saturdays on ABC.
Anyway, this unit passed for 290 a game last year, good for 7th nationally. What's even better is that this ain't Texas Tech or Hawaii - the Cards can run too.
Number one offense in college football last year? That's right, Louisville. And remember, no Michael Bush in 2007 is no big deal, because they've heard that song before and still finished with 185 yards per game rushing, which was third nationally. George Stripling and Anthony Allen return to carry the mail once more. In 2006, the Cards were 4th in scoring (38 a game), 3rd in rushing, 7th in passing, and 1st in total offense. Those would be impressive numbers if we were talking about the Big East. That's nationally. And with all those weapons and three returning starters on the offensive line, it's going to get even more sick in 2007.
Or at least it should. But before we talk about the defense, we have to talk about Bobby Petrino. With yet another shot to win the National Championship, Petrino headed for Atlanta to deal with Michael Vick and the Falcons. In steps Steve Kragthorpe from Tulsa, adding to the list of great names on this football team. It's a huge risk/reward situation for Kragthorpe, who's been given the world in his first season, and now will be expected to deliver on it. It's one thing for Larry Coker to come off Butch Davis' coaching staff and win a title. It's another to come in from another program with a whole new staff and do the same. For this reason alone, I tend to shy away from Louisville. However, Kragthorpe wasn't stupid - Brian's brother Jeff is still on board to direct the passing game. Old school Vol fans will remember breaking Jeff's leg in the season opener in 1991.
Now, the defense. The numbers are once again there, especially when it comes to sacks and forced turnovers. The line and the LBs return two each. They're playing in the Big East, which does mean they'll get a chance to have great success against the likes of UConn. But it also means they'll once again be chasing Pat White and Steve Slaton around, as well as having to deal with Rutgers and South Florida. As good as the offense is, they can't be asked to simply outscore a West Virginia or a Rutgers. The defense must do its part.
The secondary is the greatest concern. Some of the preseason magazines are calling them potentially great, and SS Jon Russell is a player. But I see one returning starter (Russell) on a team that was 80th nationally in pass defense last year.
And I see trouble when I look at the schedule.
2007 Louisville Schedule
08/30 - vs Murray State (Thurs)
09/06 - vs MTSU (Thurs)
09/15 - at Kentucky
09/22 - vs Syracuse
09/29 - at NC State
10/05 - vs Utah (Fri)
10/13 - at Cincinnati
10/19 - at UConn (Fri)
10/27 - vs Pittsburgh
11/03 - off week
11/08 - at West Virginia (Thurs)
11/17 - at South Florida
11/24 - off week
11/29 - vs Rutgers (Thurs)
Final Analysis: As stated, weakness in the pass defense. You can start with September 15 and a visit to Lexington. I can't believe I'm getting ready to say this, but watch out for Kentucky. The Cats have jumped up and surprised Louisville before, the games are normally competitive, and UK isn't a pushover - the offense can roll, and this should turn into a shootout. While there's not a nationally attractive non-conference matchup on the schedule this year after the Cards ran the Florida State/Miami gauntlet earlier this decade, the trip to NC State is also dangerous.
You haven't seen West Virginia on this countdown yet, which means I'm picking the Mountaineers to win the Big East Thursday Night Armageddon Game on November 8, simply because they're the home team. Hey, it worked last year. The other Big East pitfalls - South Florida and Rutgers most notably - are there as well, but I think U of L will handle those better this year.
Louisville isn't a dark horse national title contender, and they're not just one because they play in the Big East. This team is real, and so are their chances. However, setting that aside with a projected loss to WVU, which also means setting aside the Big East title, past history suggests that there will be another slip up in the schedule somewhere. Maybe it's Kentucky in the rivalry game, maybe it's NC State, maybe it's a Big East upset, who knows...but the new staff and the previous results lead me to believe there's an upset on the horizon.
Still, with these offensive numbers and a Heisman candidate in Brohm, I think with a 10-2 finish, the Cardinals still have a great shot to earn a BCS at-large bid. In looking at it, it seems that the SEC and the Big 10 appear destined to get an at-large bid this year with the depth at the top of those conferences, and the Texas/Oklahoma loser will get one if they win out (I don't think OU will, however)...but after that, who's going to get the other bid(s)? A 10-win U of L team that scores points and will draw fans should do the trick. I have them ranked 17th because I think they'll then lose that bowl game to a better opponent to finish 10-3. Still, I'm picking them to make the BCS. Will that outcome satisfy? We'll see. Still, don't be surprised if they're playing in New Orleans for the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

"Don't surprised if they're playing in New Orleans".....17????


Will Shelton said...

Again, they're 17 because I think that's where they'll end up in the final polls in January, not because they're the 17th most talented team. I'd put them in the Top 12 before bowl games, and I picked them to make the BCS as an at-large. No doubting their talent.