As a result of stumbling down the stretch of the 2016 season, there hasn’t been much chatter this summer about the Louisville Cardinals as a national contender. The Courier-Journal’s Steve Jones put an end to that idea on Friday.
Jones predicted the Cardinals will have at least 10 wins and perhaps even 11. He also wrote it “sounds realistic” for Louisville to end in a three-way tie atop the ACC’s Atlantic Division at the end of 2017.
“Everything is in front of the Cardinals to have a huge regular season with 10 or 11 wins,” Jones wrote. “My thinking is based on a simple premise: Louisville should be a little better, and the schedule is a little easier.”
Jones pointed out that instead of going on the road to face a very tough Houston team, the Cardinals will meet the rebuilding Purdue Boilermakers on a neutral field. Louisville should run away with that one on opening weekend, and assuming they can redeem themselves against cross-state rival Kentucky — and win every other non-conference game — then the Cardinals would reach 10 wins by going 6-2 in conference play.
Last year, Louisville was 7-1 in the ACC, beating everyone but eventual national-champion Clemson. This season, the Cardinals draw the younger and less experienced Tigers at home in Week 3, and Jones predicts a win.
The toughest matchup on Louisville’s schedule will come in October when the Cardinals face Florida State in Tallahassee. Jones said he doesn’t expect the Cardinals to win that game, but should the Seminoles lose at Clemson in November, then all three teams would have one loss.
The Cardinals other conference road games are at North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest. Some are predicting the Wolfpack to emerge as a true contender this season, but still, Louisville should win these three games. Then, in addition to Clemson, the Cardinals will play Boston College, Syracuse and Virginia at home.
However, the schedule is one thing. It won’t matter, though, if the Cardinals don’t play better football down the stretch, especially up front on the offensive line. But Jones said “there are reasons to think the Cards will be better.”
“For one, the two linemen who were regarded as U of L’s most talented — tackles Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil — are back and have experience as third-year starters,” Jones wrote. “On the interior, the quality of U of L’s recruiting would suggest the Cards will be upgrading talent there after using a former walk-on and two former junior-college transfers before.
“True freshman Cole Bentley will begin camp as a starting guard and has as much raw talent as anyone U of L has tried at the position the past two years. Guard Kenny Thomas, always a promising player, has transformed his body and has gotten in peak shape, according to Bobby Petrino.
“In addition, U of L has four other four-star recruits coming in after landing almost none on the offensive line in all the other years of online star ratings.”
Even with the departure of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, Jones wrote he doesn’t expect the defense to take any steps back. And, of course, Louisville still has Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson. His talent alone can make up for a lot of deficiencies in other areas.