Coach: Bobby Petrino (3rd season, 20–5) 2004 record: 11-1 (Beat Boise State in Liberty Bowl) C-USA finish: 8-0 (1st) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 8th (250.4 ypg) Passing: 9th (288.6 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 18th (109.0 ypg) Passing: 30th (196.9 ypg)
at South Florida
at West Virginia
Depth Chart: Offense
8 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
5 returning starters in red
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In the history of Louisville football, big seasons have generally been followed by disappointments. And last season was the best in the school's history, as the Cardinals finished with an 11-1 record, a Liberty Bowl win and a No. 6 national ranking in the final poll.
Third-year coach Bobby Petrino said the old days are gone. The school has a new league, the Big East, and despite some new faces, Petrino thinks the Cardinals have a chance to be better than last year.
Louisville lost its leading passer, receiver, and rusher from last season's team, but, Petrino said, "As people look at who we have coming back, I think they will understand that we can be a really good football team."
Now that he has the offense up and running, Petrino said he expects Louisville to challenge for the No. 1 national ranking in scoring and total offense every season. It accomplished both a year ago.
Sophomore quarterback Brian Brohm is the most celebrated recruit in Louisville history. He was named USA Today's Offensive Player of the Year coming out of Louisville's Trinity High. He is the son of a former Cardinal quarterback and brother of another. He has the arm strength, intelligence and athleticism to be a top NFL Draft pick in the future, but that future must begin now.
Brohm will be playing in a loaded backfield with running backs Michael Bush and Kolby Smith. He will also have an experienced corps of receivers to throw to, with seniors Joshua Tinch, Broderick Clark and Montrell Jones.
He'll also have an experienced line protecting him, though it may be reshuffled a bit to account for the loss of center Will Rabatin and the return from injury of tackle Renardo Foster, who should play weak guard this year.
The Cardinals still have questions here, though the group made major strides last season. Louisville will need major contributions from some newcomers this season, however.
Linebacker Nate Harris and defensive end Zach Anderson are expected to contribute right away out of junior college. Harris at one time was a top recruit for Miami before an arrest and conviction for his part in an armed robbery.
Petrino thinks he has his deepest and most athletic defensive line since he has been at Louisville, with Amobi Okoye and Montavious Stanley up the middle.
Petrino also likes his starting cornerback tandem of William Gay and redshirt freshman Rod Council, who originally committed to Virginia Tech. Both have impressive speed and played well against the Cards' receivers in the spring.
Louisville is less certain of its safety situation, where brothers Antoine Sharp, who moved over from cornerback, and Brandon Sharp played together all spring. Darius Mann, a highly touted recruit from Don Bosco High in New Jersey, could come in and compete for time right away.
Kicker Art Carmody set a new NCAA record with 77 straight extra points as a freshman, and the Cardinals have plenty of competition at the return spots. They're breaking in a new punter in sophomore Todd Flannery, however.
The Cardinals need to get their new pieces on defense performing at least up to the level of last season's unit, which ranked among the top 15 nationally at season's end.
The offense may have more big-play capability this season despite losing quarterback Stefan LeFors and running back Eric Shelton. The Cardinals need to be able to stop the run and pressure the passer if they are to accomplish in the Big East what they did in Conference USA last season. They also must protect Brohm, who has the ability to be one of the top passers in the Big East, if not the country.
The Big East title could be won or lost when Pittsburgh visits Louisville on Nov. 3. If the Cards are undefeated heading into that game, and are able to beat the Panthers, they could sport a perfect regular-season record and play in a BCS bowl in their first shot at an automatic berth.