This Louisville team will look much different than the one the Deacs faced last year in Winston-Salem, if for no other reason than the fact that Lamar Jackson is now in the NFL.
Louisville was picked by the media in the ACC Preseason Poll to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division. They received 422 votes to finish just ahead of Wake who received 413.
While last year’s team (and the year before that, and the year before that) was very heavily reliant on Lamar Jackson, don't look for Bobby Petrino to take the focus away from the quarterback position simply because Jackson is no longer the signal caller. Petrino is in his fifth year of his current stint with Louisville.
Jawon Pass, a 6-4 sophomore from Columbus, Georgia has already been named as Jackson’s successor, and the Cardinals love what they have seen of him. Like Jackson, Pass likes to use his feet to makes plays in addition to having a strong throwing arm.
Dae Williams is likely to end up as the starter at running back, but he has been hampered by a lingering injury suffered in spring practice. Trey Smith stood out in spring practice, but also suffered an injury. Colin Wilson showed promise last year, but is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered against Murray State last year. Freshmen Javian Hawkins and Hassan Hall are also in the mix. Of course with Pass’ ability to run, it may not matter too much who starts at running back.
Jaylen Smith was the leading vote-getter at wide receiver for the Preseason All-ACC team, and will be Pass’ top target. He also received one vote for Preseason Player of the Year. Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins also return after strong seasons last year, and give Louisville one of the best and most experienced receiving corps in the conference.
Tight end is a weak spot compared to the receivers, but Kemari Averett and Micky Crum both have some experience and potential to contribute.
The Cardinals lost All-Conference led tackle Geron Christian, but overall this may be one of the best O-lines Petrino has had in Mekhi Becton, Lukayus McNeil, Cole Bentley, Kenny Thomas, and Linwood Foy.
The defense is led by a new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder, who is bringing some changes from what Louisville has run the past couple of seasons.
The Cardinals lost both Trevon Young and James Hearns to the NFL, leaving only Jonathan Greenard with substantial experience at defensive end. Greenard might be anchor for the defense though, as he projects to be one of the better players and looks to step up and be a leader. Jarrett Jackson and Tabarius Peterson are competing for the other spot.
G.G. Robinson and Henry Famurewa will likely be the defensive tackles, as they are the only players at that position with collegiate experience. They will attempt to replace De’Asian Richardson and Drew Bailey’s production from last season.
Dorian Etheridge will start at middle linebacker, and as long as he is healthy will likely start every game there. Louisville is expected to run a base 4-3 scheme under VanGorder with three traditional linebackers. C.J. Avery, P.J. Blue, Quen Head, London Iakopo, Boosie Whitlow, Robert Hicks, and Yasir Abdullah will all compete for the two outside spots.
At cornerback, P.J. Mbanasor, a transfer from Oklahoma, and Rodjay Burns, a transfer from Ohio State, are expected to start as they try to replace Jaire Alexander, Trumaine Washington and Ronald Walker. But it will be a team effort, and Russ Yeast, Marlon Character, Anthony Johnson, Chandler Jones all should see plenty of snaps.
TreSean Smith is the most experience safety, but suffered a serious knee injury in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and likely will not be available to start the season. Dee Smith and Khane Pass will start until he returns.
Junior Blanton Creque will return at kicker, and junior Mason King will return at punter.
Louisville opens with defending national champion Alabama, so it will be tested early and often.
The Cardinals’ Projected S&P+ Rk is 29th, with the offense being projected 5th and the defense being projected 98th. The projected win total is 7.1, and they are also projected to return to a bowl. Louisville is favored in every game except Clemson and Alabama, where they are double-digit underdogs in both games.
The Deacs will travel to Cardinal Stadium in Louisville on Saturday, October 27th.