After a few glorious wonderful years, the Lamar Jackson Show is over in Louisville. Their freakishly athletic quarterback, who had some success as a freshman despite not knowing the playbook, then proceeded to win the Heisman Trophy and put up similar numbers last season. He’ll ply his trade for Baltimore next season (most likely at the expense of the aging Joe Flacco) and meanwhile the Cardinals need to figure out what’s next. With only 11 returning starters, a new defensive coordinator (their 3rd in 3 years), and of course a new quarterback, this is a team whose range of possible finishes seems wide. One thing to keep in mind though, is despite Jackson’s incredible success, the team won about as many games as they typically do under Bobby Petrino (he’s 75-27 here in 8 years, so 8 or 9-win seasons are plentiful). This may not automatically be a case where the team needs a year or two to rebuild. Expectations are high with this program, and the team has met them year in and year out.
|9/1||Alabama (N – Orlando)||+19.5|
|10/5 (F)||Georgia Tech||-4|
|10/13||@ Boston College||+4|
|11/9 (F)||@ Syracuse||-5.5|
I trust Petrino to get a lot out of whoever his quarterback is, but still, Jawon Pass (nickname “Puma”) is really a complete unknown, with tiny amounts of playing time last season in non-dramatic situations. At 6-4, 231 pounds, he’s definitely at least bigger than Jackson. Colin Wilson wasn’t able to stay healthy last year to give them a lot of production at RB, and after using a committee last year, I’d guess more of the same this year, and they’ll need the RB’s to be way more productive than they have been. Receiver and offensive line should be 2 strengths with so many people back. This is a pretty reasonable set-up to bring a new highly-recruited quarterback into, but the fact that his first game is Alabama won’t help with his confidence. Still, if they look awful in that game and he needs more seasoning, it could make Louisville undervalued coming out of their non-conference slate and heading into ACC play since the world will have seen him taken apart by Nick Saban on national TV.
Among the most question marks of any team I see on paper. They are on their 3rd DC in 3 years, Brian VanGorder, who was an assistant at Oklahoma State last year but has bounced around a lot of high-profile programs. His arrival means the switch a 4-3 scheme, so expect growing pains early on. The lose a lot on the defensive line and 4 of their top 6 in the secondary. They have brought in a number of freshman from big programs (Ohio State, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Auburn) to try to fill those gaps, but really it’s just a lot of unknowns and uncertainty. We don’t know how good (or bad) this defense can be, but we know essentially none of them have ever played together or for this coordinator. Maybe it’s better there are so few returning starters, since there will be so much change to initiate anyway.
They will begin the season 0-1, so any look to the over has to keep that in mind. They are 25.5-point dogs to Alabama and will be breaking in an almost entirely new defense and scheme. So that’s a loss, and you need 7 or 7.5 out of 11. The good news is, they’ve scheduled Indiana State and Western Kentucky right afterwards, which should help them balance out the Alabama game. In conference, a lot of winnable home games – Georgia Tech, Wake, NC State, even Florida State. The toughest road section is the back-to-back at Clemson and then on short rest at feisty Syracuse Friday night. Kentucky has been a pushover occasionally, but the teams are more evenly matched this year so even that game is a challenge. One thing there are not a lot of on this schedule – “automatic” wins. Really just Indiana State, maybe Western Kentucky. Everything else a challenge.
Win/Total pick: Under 7.5 -120 (BOL)
This is a tough one, and not a pick I make with much confidence. I think the defensive changes and restructuring have to take a toll on this team, as they jumped from 23.8 ppg 2 years ago to 27.4 ppg last year, and now have only 4 starters back and switch schemes again. It’s possible that at times last year the defensive shortcomings were masked by the theatrics of Jackson and his ability to single-handedly win games. While breaking in a new quarterback, the defense and running game are going to be relied on more, and they seem unlikely to respond with top-level performances out of the gate. With Petrino and their typical dominance at home (40-7 last 8 years), I think they get really close to the number, but I think they’re slightly more likely to go under with so much uncertainty.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
ACC – Atlantic
2016 record: 9-4 SU & 5-7-1 ATS
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino – Head Coaching Experience: 13 years (8th with Louisville – 4th Year of 2nd Tenure)
Season Over/Under Win Total: 9 Over -140; Under +110
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 40/1 (16th Best odds)
Returning Starters: 11 (Offense: 4 Defense: 7)
Rivals 2017 Recruiting ranking: #29th (total recruits: 24, 5-star: 0)
Sep. 2 Purdue (Indianapolis)
Sep. 9 @ North Carolina
Sep. 16 Clemson
Sep. 23 Kent State
Sep. 30 Murray State
Oct. 5 @ NC State
Oct. 14 Boston College
Oct. 21 @ Florida State
Oct. 28 @ Wake Forest
Nov. 4 Bye
Nov. 11 Virginia
Nov. 18 Syracuse
Nov. 25 @ Kentucky
Returning 9 starters on offense in 2016, one of which was Sophomore Phenom Lamar Jackson, the Louisville Cardinals broke the school’s all-time record with 6,925 yards, while putting up 42.5 points per game. Though they will have to reload a bit on offense in ’17, Jackson is back for his junior season, and so are Co-Offensive Coordinators Lonnie Galloway and Mike Summers, for an offense that has a lot to live up to following a remarkable season.
Finishing with a mind blowing 51 total TDs on 3523 Yds passing and 1571 Yds rushing, Lamar Jackson became: the first player in the ACC to throw for 15 and run for 15 TDs in a single season, the first Heisman Trophy winner in school history, and the youngest Heisman winner in NCAA history. Though finishing off the season with a whimper in their bowl game against LSU (10-27-153yds, 33 rush yds), and returning to a less experienced offense, Lamar Jackson is still capable of matching ‘16’s crazy output with a full year of experience in Petrino’s high-octane attack.
Louisville’s rushing attack relied heavily on Jackson, and for good reason, but how effective the backfield was shouldn’t be understated. Brandon Radcliff was the main threat, rushing for 903 yards on only 138 attempts for a 6.5 YPC average, which was even better than Jackson’s 6.0 average. Jeremy Smith was 2nd in line with 387 yards on 57 carries, with a better still yards per carry average at 6.7. Radcliff will move on, but the Cardinals will bring in the very highly recruited Freshman Colin Wilson to challenge the now Senior Jeremy Smith for the feature back role behind Jackson.
Last year, Louisville returned every WR on their roster, featuring 11 receivers that were 6’3’’ or taller and 2 senior starters. In ’17, they will lose those 2 Senior starters: James Quick and Jamari Staples, while also parting ways with their #2 leader in receptions, Sr. TE Cole Hikutini. Everybody else returns, however, and though less experienced, they are still big (all starters 6’3’’ or bigger) and have their 3rd leading WR Jr. Jaylen Smith back to start alongside Sr. Reggie Bonnafon. With the reining Heisman winner back at the Helm, I wouldn’t expect much of a drop off in receiving numbers for the Cardinals.
Returning 6 of their top 11 on roster from 2015, the Louisville offensive line was quite experienced last year (53 career starts returned), as 2 of the Sophomores that returned started as true freshmen. This year they will lose a C, LG, and RG, but still return an equal amount of career starts (53) as they did in ’16. Add in a highly recruited Jr. LG JUCO transfer, and this line may even be a slight upgrade from last years, as long as Redshirt Freshman Robbie Bell can assimilate himself effectively as the one underclassmen starting.
New Defensive Coordinator Peter Sirmon, former DC at Miss State, will inherit a defense seasoned with the experience of 7 returning starters. With all 7 of those returning now Seniors, and with 5 of the top 8 tacklers from a year ago back, this defense has the potential improve upon its strong 23.8 points per game and 322 yards per game allowed in ’16.
Two of those Senior starters will reside on the defensive line: DT Drew Bailey and NT De’Asian Richardson. Add in another Senior, JUCO Transfer DE Trevon Young from OLB, and Louisville will have the experience up-front to improve upon their 115 rushing ypg, 3.1 ypc, and 30 sacks. They will suffer a key loss with the departure of 2 time All-ACC DT DeAngelo Brown to the NFL, but should be able to compensate for this loss with their experience.
At linebacker is where Louisville will suffer most from losses in talent, as they will have to replace 3 multi-year All-ACC backers. 1st team All-ACC Devonte Fields, 2x All-ACC Keith Kelsey, and 2x All-ACC S/LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (6th round NFL) will all move on, leaving the Cardinals with some major holes to fill, especially with Trevon Young moving to DE. The 2nd leading tackler of ’16, Sr. Stacy Thomas will certainly be a welcomed return at ILB; and with Sr. James Hearns also returning to start at OLB, Louisville does have the experience and talent to help ease the pain of these substantial losses.
Returning 3 starters in 2016, Louisville’s secondary was very solid, holding opponents to a 54.5% completion rate, while finishing with a 2:1 TD to INT Ratio. Once again returning 3 starters, the Cardinal’s secondary will welcome back its 4th team All-American CB Jr. Jaire Alexander, and its #3 and #4 tacklers; Senior Safeties Chucky Williams and Zykiesis Cannon. With another Senior, Trumaine Washington starting at the other CB position, this is one of the better secondaries in the ACC.
Losing their all-time career field goal leader as well as their Punter didn’t stop Louisville from improving on Special Teams last year. New Freshman Punter Mason King averaged a school record 43.9 yards per punt, while Redshirt Freshman Kicker Blanton Creque hit 16-19 and had a school record, 18 pts vs. NC State. This year with more experience, this very young unit will only lose their long snapper and should improve in all aspects.
2017 Season Outlook
As the 14th most experienced team the country and with the momentum of winning 8 of their last 10 games in 2015, the Louisville Cardinals did not disappoint in ’16. Starting off the season 9-1 with their sole loss at Clemson in a close one, Louisville was in the National Title hunt, until that shocking blowout loss at Houston in week 11 derailed their season. Now in 2017, with Lamar Jackson back, and a defense that returns 7 starters, they are right back in the National Title hunt with the 16th best odds (40/1). With by far the easiest schedule in the ACC (62nd Overall), a season win total of 9 may be a little short. They should be favored in all games but two (vs. Clemson and @ Florida State), with their only other away games other than FSU, vs. North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest, and Kentucky. With all of their home games save for Clemson easily winnable, I have trouble coming up with a 3rd loss that would leave their win total under 10 games. Take the Heisman Trophy winner, Bobby Petrino, and this seasoned defense to get to double digit wins.
Season Win Total Prediction: Over 9