2010 marked a return to relevance for the Louisville Cardinals after three straight disappointing seasons. The departure of Steve Kragthorpe and the arrival of Charlie Strong helped the Cardinals to a 7-6 record and a 31-28 win over Southern Miss in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
Strong did it with some of his hallmarks of his dominant Florida Gators teams. Louisville was 18th in the nation in defense, allowing just 19.4 points a game. Offensively, Louisville was solid, producing 175 yards a game on the ground, good for 34th in the country.
But there is no guarantee that the turnaround from last season is permanent. Strong will have to contend with the loss of 11 starters and a wealth of key reserves from last season. Among the top names to be replenished is quarterback Adam Froman and running back Bilal Powell.
Players to watch for (offense):
VICTOR ANDERSON (RB): Last season, Powell rushed for 1,405 yards and had 11 touchdowns. Now, the spotlight is purely on Anderson. In 2008, Anderson rushed for 1,047 yards, but has been hindered by injuries since then. Last season, he rushed for just 286 yards. That being said, if Anderson is healthy, he has the chance to put up similar numbers that Powell did last year.
JOSH BELLAMY (WR): Receiver is another position the Cardinals will need someone to step up. Top guns Doug Beaumont and Cameron Graham are gone, leaving a group of talented, but unproven, players behind them. Bellamy was the only one among that group healthy enough to play in spring ball. The senior caught 29 passes last year, five of them for scores.
Players to watch for (defense):
DANIEL BROWN (LB): Brown was fourth on the team in tackles last season with 54, including 10 for losses. The junior is one of the vital cogs of the defense, with the versatility to cover, blitz and stuff the run.
ANTHONY CONNER (DB): The Cardinals are paper-thin at cornerback with the losses of Johnny Patrick and Bobby Burns. Conner, who is recovering from a torn ACL, will be critical to the Cardinals chances of stopping the pass.
Fearless prediction: As Ryan Nassib goes, so does the Orange in this game. Louisville is a blitz-heavy defense, which will place a lot of pressure on its inexperienced secondary. If Nassib can take advantage of single coverage on the outside, he could have a productive day.