GREENSBORO, N.C. (WDRB) -- Bobby Petrino is comfortable in a headset. But the University of Louisville football coach has rarely spent this much time in this kind of headset.
Petrino did 26 radio interviews and a handful of TV chats with various networks before finally sitting down with the print media during his first run through the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff on Monday.
Now, Petrino wasn't The Show in town. That was Jimbo Fisher, head coach of defending national champion Florida State. But Petrino was fine with that.
His football team was picked to finish third in the ACC's Atlantic Division, behind Florida State and Clemson. He's not quite as satisfied with that.
"We hope to finish better than we're picked," Petrino said.
For now, Petrino had the honor of being the first face the university put forward at a public ACC event. And when asked about the challenge presented by the ACC, Petrino subtly reminded reporters that he's seen this kind of challenge before.
"The division we're in reminds me a little of the SEC West when we were at Arkansas," Bobby said. "You've got a defending national champion, and a traditional power that can beat just about anybody on a given week. So I see it as you have to truly play one game at a time, understand every team we played is going to have great players and be well-coached, and know that most games are going to be won in the fourth quarter. So we're going to make sure our guys are in very good condition, that we continue to build strength as the year goes on, and that we continue to build depth."
The pecking order, certainly, has changed. U of L has fairly high expectations for itself during Petrino's first season, but no one outshines Florida State in terms of expectations.
Florida State, the overwhelming favorite to win the ACC overall title (104 votes to 2 each for Clemson and Virginia Tech), also is favored to win the Atlantic Division. Clemson was picked to finish second with 660 points to 564 for Louisville. Syracuse (368), N.C. State (326), Boston College (301) and Wake Forest (136) round out the division.
It's no SEC West. But comparatively speaking, it presents U of L with the same kinds of challenges Petrino had to overcome at Arkansas.
"When I was in Conference USA and a couple of times in the Big East, you stepped on the field and maybe once, twice, three times a year you knew you had better players than the guys you were going against and if you just didn't screw it up, you win the game," Petrino said. "Now, those days are over. Every team is going to have good players and be well-coached and you have to find a way to win the fourth quarter."
U of L's offense will revolve around wide receiver DeVante Parker. The Louisville native is quiet, and doesn't receive the national notoriety of some others, but he may be as talented a receiver as there is in the nation. At least, Petrino thinks so. How defenses decide to cope with Parker may be a major key in how Petrino decides to proceed offensively on a given night.
"You want to get him the ball as much as you possibly can," Petrino said. "The good thing about him is, if he's one-on-one, I think he's going to win. That's the confidence I have in him. If they're not going to play him one-on-one, if they roll the coverage or double him or find a way to try to take him away, then that's going to open up both the running game and the matchups on the other side. So he's a very, very good asset to have."
The guy trying to get him the ball will be Will Gardner, a redshirt sophomore. Petrino likes everything he has seen from Gardner. He says he can make all the throws, has a strong arm, good touch on the deep ball, makes the right decisions most of the time and moves better than expected. Gardner, he said, clocked a 4.58 seconds in the 40 during team drills. He's improving his handling of the ball in the Cards' play-action game.
"He's very coachable, a good student of the game, and he's a natural leader that the players have already learned to follow," Petrino said. "He has no problem in leading and taking control of the offense. He's got a lot of positives. The down side is he's very inexperienced."
He's also been prone to injury at times, which has Petrino wanting to keep his weight under 230, to protect his knees, as well as wanting to develop a backup quickly. He's hoping Reggie Bonnafon, a freshman from Trinity High School, will seize that role in summer camp, but is waiting to see his progress.
Petrino said he knows he'll have big defensive holes to fill, but believes new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who comes from Georgia, is off to a good start. He'll convert Louisville to a 3-4 scheme, but defensive end-linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin said the team already was familiar with 3-4 techniques, that it just needed to learn some new terminology.
"Todd really understands the 3-4 defense and the nickel front that we'll run, so we play both a combination of a three-down front and a four-down front," Petrino said. "A lot of the players that we have from last year did both of those schemes. It was just a little bit different. They were a four-down front in base defense and then a three-down front in the nickel and dime situations. We kind of do it just the opposite. But Todd is an expert at understanding the techniques and fundamentals that we need to do, and he's been able to show throughout his history that he gets players to play at a very high level and excel at what they're doing.
"I would anticipate that we would be good on defense. Probably our biggest concern is that we lost two safeties that my understanding is played 33 straight games together, and one of them was a first-round draft pick. So we certainly have to replace that."
Petrino said that having Miami, in a Labor Day Monday night opener at home that is being billed as a blackout in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, is the kind of opener he likes. He says it helps give the team a focal point during the offseason, and certainly has his players' attention. That they just beat Miami handily in the Russell Athletic Bowl should have no bearing on that preparation.
"We have to just understand that it's a completely new game," Petrino said. " We're a different team. They're a different team. We don't get to carry over any points from last year's bowl game. We have to prepare and perform. It's nice to have it at home, and I do like having it on Monday night on national TV. And I really like having our opening game mean something."
What would be a successful season? Petrino didn't exactly say.
"I never really mapped out on a schedule and said if we win this many games, this is a good year," he said. "We have high expectations. We want to be champions. That's what we want to do. It's our goal. To do that, we have to start by winning all our home games. So playing well at home and winning gives you an opportunity to find your way. We're looking to find a way to Charlotte to play for the ACC Championship, and that gives you a shot at the playoffs."
Nobody at the ACC Football Kickoff was predicting that. But by this point, everybody in the league has heard Petrino's take on things. As he left the Grandover Resort in North Carolina, there was no one left to talk to.
"It's tiring," Petrino said. "But it's a great thing for this university."
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