CRAWFORD: U of L's Strong says, 'let's tone it down' - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD: U of L's Strong says, 'let's tone it down'

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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- There might be another ban in the works for the University of Louisville football program.

You get the feeling listening to Cardinals' coach Charlie Strong that if he could ban some of the preseason hype coming his team's way, he'd lock it out faster than you can say "no comment."

When WDRB sports director Tom Lane caught up with Strong at a charity golf event on Monday and asked about fan expectations, Strong did everything but take a 3-wood to the question.

"Well you know one thing we need to do, let's tone it down with the fans, No. 1, because expectations are out there," Strong said. "You look at the first two years, we were picked last and this year for some reason people think we're going to have this outstanding football team. It's all about work, it's all about our players understanding that you still have to go play the game."

Athlon Sports is out with its Big East Conference football picks for 2012, and U of L is listed as the conference co-favorite along with South Florida.

Athlon, a year ago, picked U of L to finish eighth in the Big East, and said, "the Cards might take a step back in 2011 before taking a big leap in 2012."

Strong says, "We have to remember where that's coming from." Which is a nice way of saying if the magazine was wrong about the "step back," what makes anyone think they're right about the "big leap."

Strong's job is to manage expectations. When analysts look at U of L's schedule, they see a slate in which the Cards could be favored in every game, or at least the vast majority.

Strong looks at it and sees three quick-turnaround weeks.

Analysts look at U of L and see all the young talent. Strong looks and sees only nine seniors. "Leadership is going to be an issue," he said.

Strong is paid to worry about what could go wrong, to fret over developing one or two more reliable pieces on both lines, to push wideouts who are being called playmakers because of their talent to become guys who are called playmakers because of their performance.

Strong is paid to focus on that stuff and manage expectations.

I am not. In fact, I am one of those who used to write those preseason magazine stories and league prediction lists. The first thing you need to know about those is that the deadline rolls around at about Kentucky Derby time. Who has a good picture of what's happening then? Some spring practices aren't even over by then.

You do the best you can, but really, all you're going on is the year before.

Even so, it appears that pundits who missed on obvious talent upgrades the past two years are not going to come close to missing out on what's going on at U of L this season.

Here's what you're looking at. A quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater who was one of the top two freshman QBs in the nation last season. Four guys at running back with the ability to start. A line that Strong likes, and a wideout corps that has consistency (Scott Radcliff) brilliance (DeVante Parker) and speed (Eli Rogers).

U of L wants to have strong run-pass balance, hit the play-action game hard and go vertical in the passing game for long gains, getting the ball to playmakers in open zones.

Defensively, Strong has plenty of solid pieces up front, including a guy like Deinterez Mount, who is a linebacker in the base package but drops down to a D-line spot in rush situations because of his speed.

The defense is multiple, aggressive and built around blitzes and man coverage on the outside to put even more pressure on the opposing quarterback. Strong will take a hard look at a couple of freshman linebackers, but has four starters back in the secondary.

All of that, in magazine speak, adds up to a No. 1 season pick in a conference compromised by the departure of its perennial best team.

"They deserve to be picked where they are just because of how hard they've worked and the job the coaching staff has done," Strong said of his team. "But we still have to realize who picked it, and we still have to do the work. . . . We can't allow as a coaching staff for us to get full of ourselves."

Strong, according to assistants, talks a great deal around the U of L football complex about success not being final and about "remembering where we came from." Strong is 14-12 overall. In three of its final four regular-season games last year, U of L put more than 30 points on the board. That's a start. It also lost to N.C. State in the Belk Bowl. That's not exactly a launch pad.

Strong has been around legitimate top 10 programs. He knows he's not around one right now. But you get the feeling he knows how to get it there.

"We have a ton of youth," he said. "But the whole work ethic has changed. The accountability has changed. The responsibility has changed."

So have the expectations. They might not be worth the bandwidth they're printed on, but neither can they be banned from the landscape.

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