Tomahawk Nation is setting up preview pages for each of Florida State's football opponents. This is the page for Louisville. Florida State travels to Louisville on October 30 for a Thursday night contest.
As of June 17, FSU is favored by 17 points in the game. That may seem like a lot for people who have seen Louisville put up excellent seasons in 2012-13, but consider that FSU is the most loaded team in CFB, that Louisville lost its coach to Texas, the best QB in its history to the NFL, and a bunch of defensive lineman, and you can begin to understand the spread.
This very well could be Florida State's best offensive line ever. If Louisville cannot slow down FSU's run game, it cannot beat Florida State. Period. Jameis Winston throwing off play-action is unfair.
Also, consider that Louisville is stepping up in competition, from the AAC to the ACC. We've seen some teams struggle mightily when doing so, like Miami, TCU, West Virginia, Colorado and Utah.
Still, this is a Petrino offense with a very nice OL and WR corps. Petrino often works magic with quarterbacks, and I'd expect nothing less from Louisville.
Here's Bill's excerpt on the defensive line. There are nine more just like it, which you really should read.
Most of my reservations regarding Louisville in 2013 came on the defensive side of the ball. When Charlie Strong came to town, he immediately improved the Cardinals' defense from 89th in Def. F/+ to 45th in 2010. But there was a ceiling in place; they ranked just 46th in 2011 and 48th in 2012. The level of returning experience was high in 2013, but I was curious just how much the defense could improve in just one offseason.
The defense improved quite a bit. Thanks mostly to a line that went from liability to extreme strength, Louisville improved all the way to 10th in Def. F/+. The Cardinals were equally adept at preventing you from moving the ball efficiently and putting the kibosh on big plays, and they got even better when you got closer to their end zone. Only one defense in the country allowed fewer than Louisville's 3.0 points per trip inside the 40.
While the defense was a pleasant surprise in 2013, it has its work cut out for it in 2014. First of all, the line was decimated by attrition. The thing about having top-notch experience in a given season is that it probably means you don't the next. Plus, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, formerly of Georgia, is installing his version of the 3-4 defense, which means that the front line is undergoing both turnover and change. There is almost no experience at the new nose tackle position, and while players like Sheldon Rankins have shown plenty of potential, they now have to produce at a much higher level.
The news isn't all bad, of course. Former end Lorenzo Mauldin should be absolutely terrifying at the OLB position, and inside linebacker James Burgess has proven to be tough against both run (eight non-sack tackles for loss) and pass (five passes defensed). Throw in some former four-star recruits who have been either limited by injury (Keith Brown) or simply waiting their turn (Nick Dawson, Stacy Thomas), and you've got loads of upside at linebacker.
Still, potential at linebacker only matters if the line can keep blockers off of those linebackers. We'll see.
8/11: Paul Myerberg added his excellent preview. Here's an excerpt, and as always, I encourage you to click on over the read it in its entirety. He has Louisville as the No. 29 team nationally.
Given Clemson's changing cast of personnel – and even if we all think the absolute world of Chad Morris – Louisville may very well have the second-best offense in the ACC, trailing only Florida State. There's so much to like; in fact, the only thing to dislike is the lack of proven depth up front. If the line stays healthy, however, and provides Gardner with ample protection, the Cardinals' attack is going to tear to shreds unprepared defensive backfields and provide sneakily dangerous production on the ground, providing the sort of balanced, opportunistic, big-play attack often lacking under the previous staff. This is Petrino's gift: Louisville is going to have an absolutely fantastic, often unstoppable offense.
In 2014, the growth on offense will be mirrored by a slide back on defense. Part of this is due to the scheme change: Grantham's going to implement this 3-4 base set and force the roster to catch up, a decision that will pay off in the long run but provide growing pains for the duration of the regular season. I don't really worry about the pass rush, which should be fine with the move of several ends to outside linebacker. I'm more worried about stopping the run and buttoning up the secondary, which should be far more prone to big plays downfield with the move at safety. That's another issue: Scheme is one thing, but Louisville is clearly weaker in personnel.
So there's a bit of a lack of balance, but not enough to immediately make Louisville one of the best teams in the ACC – essentially locked along with Duke and North Carolina behind the leading pair of Florida State and Clemson. If in the Coastal, I'd probably pick Louisville to win the division. As is, playing FSU and the Tigers – not to mention Miami and Notre Dame – is difficult, meaning the Cardinals will lose at least three and perhaps four games during the regular season. I'd be shocked by more than four; I think 8-4 is the result, and I'd likely view the Cardinals as deserving of a spot in the top 25 with nine wins – if one of the nine comes against either Clemson or the Fighting Irish.
Here is the bottom line from ESPN, which has a nice preview and gives Louisville a seven percent chance to win the ACC.
This year, Louisville will walk into a talent-thin conference boasting a roster packed with offensive skill players. Its weakest link, an unproven quarterback, will have the benefit of working under Petrino, a known quarterback guru. Add in a favorable schedule -- especially over the first half of the season, while the offense looks to pick up speed and the defense gets used to a new scheme -- and the potential here is tremendous.
Still, with the conference's unquestioned top two teams -- Clemson and Florida State -- in its division, Louisville can likely go only so far. If the Cardinals can steal one unexpected win, reach 10 wins and grab, say, a Gator Bowl invite, that would be a heckuva first year free of Big East purgatory.