Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates after a Louisville touchdown during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

BEVO BEAT Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25 countdown: No. 15 Louisville

The pros: Lamar Jackson. The cons: The defense and that schedule. Can Louisville produce another 2016?

Posted July 15th, 2017

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.

Today’s team: No. 15 Louisville (Related coverage: Affable Lamar Jackson shines again on big stage at ACC Kickoff)

Best-case scenario: The Cardinals recapture the electricity they showed in 2016. Junior quarterback Lamar Jackson puts up magical numbers as he did with 5,114 total yards and 51 touchdowns in last year’s Heisman Trophy season, develops as a better downfield passer and works on throwing the ball away to avoid the rush. The young offense matures quickly to make a national title run and the defense shores up after allowing 49 plays of 20 yards or more.

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Worst-case scenario: The offensive line, missing its three interior starters from a group that allowed an astounding 46 sacks in 2016, fails to gel. The rash of running back injuries that began in the spring continues. Jackson has to run for his life again as he did during the team’s three-game losing streak to end last season when the Cardinals scored 10 and 9 points in two of them and wound up in a minor bowl.

The key game: Oct. 21, at Florida State. Without a bye in the first nine weeks of the season, Louisville has to travel in Week 8 to a vengeful, legitimate CFP championship contender Florida State, which is still smarting from its 63-20 spanking last year.

INSIDE THE CARDINALS

Coach: Bobby Petrino (fourth year, 67-22; 109-43 overall at Louisville and Arkansas. Petrino is in his second stint at Louisville)

2016: 9-4, 7-1 in the ACC (lost to LSU 29-9 in the Citrus Bowl)

Returning starters: 4 offense, 7 defense

Goodbye: RB Brandon Radcliff, WR James Quick (Redskins, undrafted free agent), WR Jamari Staples (Chiefs, UFA), TE Cole Hikutini (49ers, UFA), LB Devonte Fields, LB Keith Kelsey (Steelers, UFA), DT DeAngelo Brown (Titans, UFA)

Spring cleaning: Peter Sirmon and Todd Grantham traded jobs — Sirmon left his job as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator to replace the fiery Grantham at Louisville, and Grantham replaced Sirmon in Starkville. Sirmon supposedly is simplifying the playbook. … Running back was an issue; Jeremy Smith (surgery for a fractured foot) and Dae Williams (ACL) suffered injuries and Malik Williams was coming off late-season knee surgery. Maybe Reggie Bonnafan, who has played quarterback, running back and wide receiver, will be moved back to running back. … Louisville’s signing class ranked 32nd nationally, but it was considered the greatest haul for offensive linemen in school history — one guard and four tackles.

Jaylen Smith #9 of Louisville reacts after catching a touchdown pass during the first quarter of a game against Boston College at Alumni Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: Lamar Jackson, 230-409-3,543, 30/9

Rushing: QB Lamar Jackson, 260-1.571-21 (1st)

Receiving: Jaylen Smith, 27-599-6 (4th)

Tackles: LB Stacy Thomas, 85 (2nd)

Sacks: LB James Hearns, 8 (1st)

RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (5)

Offense: QB Lamar Jackson (1st team), OL Geron Christian (hon. men.)

Defense: CB Jaire Alexander (2nd), S Chucky Williams (3rd), LB James Hearns (hon. men.)

Louisville fans react after a Louisville Cardinals touchdown during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

LOUISVILLE: FYI

Defensive woes: Five of the team’s top eight tacklers from 2016, including star cornerback Jaire Alexander, are back. Alexander had five interceptions, two off Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, and returned a punt for a 69-yard touchdown against Florida State. All four of Louisville’s starters in the secondary return, but they gave up an ACC-worst 29 touchdowns through the air.

The highs and lows of scheduling: A favorable non-conference schedule (Purdue, Kent State and Murray State) eases the load, but a road game at North Carolina in Week 2 and a home game with Clemson the following week will tell the tale. The opener against the Boilermakers comes against former Louisville star quarterback and new Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who takes over after a 30-10 record in three stellar seasons replacing Petrino at Western Kentucky.

Back for more: Jackson might play under center more and promises to be an even better decision-maker in 2017 as he attempts to duplicate Archie Griffin as the first (and only) two-time Heisman winner in 42 years. He’s a good guy who idolized Michael Vick as a Florida high schooler who loved the Miami Hurricanes, and he noted that when Johnny Manziel came to his New York hotel room after the Heisman ceremony to visit, the 2012 winner told him the award “was just the beginning.”

 

Louisville's schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 2Purdue
Sept. 9at North Carolina*
Sept. 16Clemson*L, 42-36
Sept. 23Kent State
Sept. 30Murray State
Oct. 5at North Carolina St.*W, 54-13
Oct. 14Boston College*W, 52-7
Oct. 21at Florida State*W, 63-20
Oct. 28at Wake Forest*W, 44-12
Nov. 11Virginia*W, 32-25
Nov. 18Syracuse*W, 62-28
Nov. 25at KentuckyL, 41-38
* ACC game

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGBOWL GAME
TOTAL49-16 (29-10)3-2 in bowls
201211-2 (5-12)25th/13thW Sugar
201312-1 (7-1)9th/15thW Russell Athletic
20149-4 (5-3)NR/21stL Belk
20158-5 (5-3)NR/NRW Music City
20169-4 (7-1)19th/21stL Citrus

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

 

2016 NATIONAL RANKS

Scoring: 6th (42.5)

Points allowed: 31st (23.8)

Passing: 23rd (290.5)

Rushing: 13th (242.2)

Total off.: 3rd (532.7)

Total def.: 14th (322.2)

OUR TOP 25 SO FAR

No. 25: Boise State

No. 24: Oregon

No. 23: Tennessee

No. 22: Texas

No. 21: Kansas State

No. 20: Miami

No. 19: West Virginia

No. 18: South Florida

No. 17: Florida

No. 16: Stanford

No. 15: Louisville

No. 14: Coming Sunday. Want a hint? This school’s mascot, named the nation’s best by Sports Illustrated in 1997, attended the 1982 Heisman Trophy ceremony wearing a tuxedo.

BY CONFERENCE

3 schools:

Big 12 (19-West Virginia, 21-Kansas State, 22-Texas)

2 schools:

ACC (15-Louisville, 20-Miami)

Pac-12 (16-Stanford, 24-Oregon)

SEC (17-Florida, 23-Tennessee)

1 school:

AAC (18-South Florida)

Mountain West (25-Boise State)

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