The University of Louisville football players are trying to avoid the pre-season magazines that put the Cards in the Top 10.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Teddy Bridgewater is not the only University of Louisville football player drawing hugs and kisses from the pre-season college football magazines.
The Athlon Sports College Football Yearbook ranks Hakeem Smith a third-team all-American at safety. The Sporting News agrees. Phil Steele, publisher of another magazine, makes it three-for-three for Number 29.
That is powerful praise for a guy who committed to Louisville five years ago this month when he was a merely 2-star recruit from Riverdale, Ga. Steele ranks Smith as the top strong safety eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.
I expected Smith to have a stack of each magazine. Wouldn't you?
"I haven't seen it yet," Smith said.
They're difficult to miss. There is more. Athlon picks the Cardinals to win the American Athletic Conference. There are affirming votes from The Sporting News, Phil Steele and Lindy's.
While the Cards are the unanimous pick on top, there is confusion in conversation for the runner-up position. I've spotted Rutgers (Sporting News), Central Florida (Phil Steele) and Cincinnati (Athlon) picked second. This won't be like Louisiana State pressuring Alabama or Stanford squeezing Oregon.
It's Louisville being pursued into a first-league conference that features three first-year coaches and two other guys two seasons on the job. This is Charlie Strong's fourth season at U of L, but the Cardinals have a stability advantage on everybody but UCF and SMU.
The players don't want to hear another syllable about how everybody else in the new league is playing for second place. Dominique Brown, one of Strong's running backs, said he is determined to keep the pre-season magazines out of the locker room and dormitory.
"The biggest thing that happens with people who read those kinds of things is they get complacent," Brown said. "Right now we don't need that in our program because we have so many guys returning. We're a veteran group. We really try not to get involved with stuff like that. "
That will be a severe challenge because there is a lot of stuff like that to get involved with this season. The tone of all the magazines is constant: The only AAC team that can stop Louisville is Louisville.
Check the all-conference teams. Phil Steele ranks Louisville with seven first-team all-league players. No other team has more than four.
The Sporting News calls it six first-teamers from Louisville. No other team has more than four. Smith and teammate Calvin Pryor are unanimous picks as the league's top two safeties.
"It's great," Smith said. "I've just got to hold on to it and be consistent with it and then work towards actually attaining that at the end of the year.
"I've been working toward this moment. It's my last year. So I've got to go out big."
Hold it. If Charlie Strong needs printed motivation, I've found some:
Athlon Sports says Cincinnati has seven first-team all-AAC players while Louisville has only six.
But the Cardinals are the pick over the Bearcats to win the league because Athlon believes Louisville is stronger at quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive line and the secondary while Cincinnati gets the edge on the offensive line and linebacker.
The players say that is wonderful. But how can the praise be more valid than the skepticism that covered the program three years ago?
Smith said he must improve his coverage skills and create more turnovers. Brown said the backs have set this goal: Two 1,000-yard rushers.
"It's great for the program but as players we can't get fat and happy," Brown said. "We really need to try to stay blind to stuff like that."