by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

Charlie Strong has it going at Louisville. Strong arrived from Florida and took over a Cardinal team that was just 9-15 straight-up in 2008 and 2009 combined and has taken it to a pair of winning records, back-to-back bowl games and the Big East championship last season. Not bad considering the Cards were picked to finish last in the conference each of the last two seasons.

With 18 returning starters, seven home games and a softer schedule with West Virginia now competing in the Big 12, the future is bright for Strong’s young, talented team. Louisville d.c. Vance Bedford has done a remarkable job, turning a ragtag crew that gave up 30 ppg in 2008 into the nation’s 17th-toughest team, yielding just 20 ppg a year ago. Bedford’s defenses have been an aggressive combination of “man-and-blitz” packages that come at opposing QBs from all angles. With 10 returning starters on this side of the ball (including a pair of first-team all-Big East performers in CB Adrian Bushell and S Hakeem Smith) the coverage will improve and allow the Cards to become even more aggressive.

In 2011 Louisville allowed just 3.0 ypc & 100 ypg on the ground (10th in the country), and tthe seamless transition of Preston Brown (right. vs. Syracuse last fall) from outside to middle linebacker in spring drills bodes well for a continuation of the Cards shutting down the run. The defensive side will be reinforced by a couple of hot-shot 4-star true frosh linebackers in Keith Brown, an early enrollee, and James Burgess, two of the seven incoming recruits from the state of Florida.

Offensively, the coaching staff is anticipating a major jump in production and effectiveness from true soph QB Teddy Bridgewater (left), who was the Big East Newcomer of the Year in 2011. Bridgewater was second in the Big East in passing efficiency, averaging 201 ypg passing in the last 10 Cardinal games, including 515 YP & 5 scores combined in the regular-season finale against South Florida and the Belk Bowl against N.C. State. Bridgewater is capable of making the jump to the head of the QB class in the Big East this season.

The WR corps might be a bit iffy, as the leading returning pass-catcher, Michaelee Harris (37 recs.) missed the spring recovering from an ACL injury suffered in December preparation for last season’s bowl appearance. Sr. Scott Radcliff showed signs in spring he could step up and be a big-play star, catching 9 passes for 119 yards in the spring game. 6-3 Miami native Andrell Smith had 11 catches a year ago, and 6-3 soph DeVante Parker had 18 and led the team with 6 TD catches, so there will be ample experienced receivers even if Harris isn’t ready when the flag goes up.

With four line starters back, the offense should have the stability necessary to improve the ground game as well. Juniors Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry are fighting for the top spot to replace the graduated Vic Anderson, but redshirt jr. Jeremy Wright (344 YR, 4.6 ypc) will get his chance to carry the ball as well. Brown, Perry & Wright might all take a back seat eventually if RS frosh Corvin Lamb continues to improve. Lamb is a Miami area product who showed moves, vision and after contact power in the spring. RB coach Kenny Carter, who came to the Cards from the University of Florida with Strong, is having success recruiting in Florida, formerly a stronghold of the SEC. The results will be evident as Louisville’s running game develops into a force this season.

The kicking game loses P/PK Chris Philpott, who might be replaced by incoming freshman Josh Appleby. Probably the only dicey area on the team...life is good for Card fans!

Summary: Charlie Strong is building a monster by Big East football standards. He’s already got a league championship under his belt and the Cards are the early favorite to make it back-to-back conference titles this season. Strong’s teams have been a phenomenal play on the road, logging an 11-2 pointspread mark away from Papa John Stadium. With the experience on defense and an improving, dynamic QB in Bridgewater and a quantity of RBs and pass-catchers, watch out for the Cardinals. Interestingly, he was more than a little perturbed during spring when the media virtually ignored the football team to cover Rick Pitino’s hoopsters’ NCAA run. You can’t have everything, but did you have to lock out the writers in April? After all, it’s not easy to compete with basketball in Kentucky.


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