2012 Record: 11-2 (5-2 in Big East, tied 1st)
Head Coach: Charlie Strong (fourth year at Louisville, 25-14 overall)
Last Bowl Game: 2012 Sugar Bowl: defeated Florida 33-23
Stadium: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky (capacity: 56,000)
Notable alumni: Elvis Dumervil, David Ackers, Michael Bush, Bilal Powell
Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking: 28th out of 124 teams
Pro: outscored opponents (avg.) 32.3-18.5
Con: allowed 3,282 passing yards
Returning starters: offense: six; defense: nine; specialists: two
Players to watch: QB Teddy Bridgewater (2012 Big East Offensive POY); WR DeVante Parker; RBs Senorise Perry and Dominique Brown; SS Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith (both Second Team All-Big East); LBs Preston Brown (Second Team All-Big East), Keith Brown and James Burgess; DE Lorenzo Maudlin; P Ryan Johnson; and K John Wallace
CFBZ: The Cardinals lost unexpectedly to UConn at home late last season — a game during which Teddy Bridgewater was injured. How dependent is Louisville on the play of Bridgewater?
Cam Newton: To say that Bridgewater is the driving force behind this offense is an understatement. He’s a quarterback that is quite simply a playmaker. He’s able to pass long distances with great accuracy, while also obtaining the ability to tuck the ball and run with it. The differences in Louisville when Bridgewater is in and when he’s out is night and day, as was evident in the Connecticut and Rutgers games last season. If it’s possible, he’s going to be an even bigger part of the offense this season.
CFBZ: Louisville has enjoyed some preseason Top 10 rankings and is likely to be favored in every game in 2013. Is there any game on the Cardinals schedule that will really test their potential and, should they run the table, will they get due respect?
Cam Newton: There are two games that scare me more than any other on the schedule, and they’re the first and last games of the regular season. The first game of the season is against Ohio, a team that is going to be overlooked by every large team on their schedule. They’re a MAC school that is full of veteran players and definitely have the heart and skill to upset Louisville. It will be a good early test for the Cards, but hopefully will not be a shocking wake up call. I’m also concerned about the season finale against Cincinnati. The game is being held at Nippert Stadium, against the team that seems to be Louisville’s only real competition in the American. I could very well see an undefeated Louisville team going to Cincinnati and losing the Keg of Nails and BCS title hopes. Sadly enough though, it wouldn’t surprise me if Louisville got no respect, even if they did go undefeated. That’s all due to their weak strength of schedule when compared to other big conference teams.
CFBZ: The Cardinals upset Florida in the Sugar Bowl in what was probably the signature win for the program. They got a lot of national recognition as a result. Shortly before, Louisville accepted an invitation to join the ACC. Has euphoria carried over into the 2013 season and what danger is there that the team will look past this season in the American?
Cam Newton: The Sugar Bowl win was definitely the biggest win in program history, as it also served as the defining win for the team. The team and its fans are certainly excited, but they can’t let that feeling carry over and cloud their vision for this season. Yes, the win was great, but they need to regain focus and think about the present and the future.
CFBZ: Charlie Strong re-upped in Louisville last year after toying briefly with a move to the SEC. His leadership and recruiting ability have turned this program into a perennial winner. If the Cards have another trip to a BCS bowl, what’s to stop him from making at a move to more prestigious position?
Cam Newton: The biggest thing keeping Strong is his loyalty and contract extension. His current contract has him with Louisville through 2020, which isn’t a concrete thing that says he’ll be here for seven more years, but it’s better than nothing. Strong is a coach who loves this program and the opportunities athletic director Tom Jurich has given him, and I think the only way he’d leave is for a head coaching position at a school like Florida, or any other top-tier programs like USC, Texas, etc.
Pete's Bottom Line:
The Cardinals were selected by the football journalists to win the inaugural American Athletic Conference title at the league’s media day on July 30th. In answering questions about the selection, head coach Charlie Strong cited the bowl victory over No. 4 Florida as the new benchmark for his team. He didn’t embrace the new standard, but acknowledged that the media and fans logically expect more out of a team that beat such a highly ranked opponent from the SEC.
Louisville’s schedule is one of the easiest in conference. It's two toughest opponents should be Rutgers (last two matchups decided by combined five points) and Cincinnati in the final Keg of Nails game. Cincinnati has a 30-22-1 all-time edge, and Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville has a penchant for pulling off signature victories.
There is no question the Cardinals have depth and talent … but they also have a target on their backs. This is the team that every opponent will be “up” to play. Charlie Strong will have them prepared to play though. Barring injury to Bridgewater, expect the Cardinals to claim the conference crown and play in its second straight BCS bowl game
Predicted record: 12-0
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: