LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Year one from coach Scott Satterfield at the University of Louisville was overachievement. The Cards went 8-5 when many expected 4-8.
With expectations rising, year two was underachieving. The Cards could not mask the recruiting issues created by end of the Bobby Petrino era as well as the transition to Satterfield’s staff. They finished 4-7 with folks anticipating 7-4.
Expectations have disappeared for 2021. Most preseason publications have Louisville picked to finish fifth or lower in the seven-team Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Only Syracuse gets less respect.
The Cards open Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta against Ole Miss as a likely 10-point underdog. According to the Phil Steele College Football Yearbook, the Cards went 0-5 as underdogs last season.
Some thoughts about how the 2021 season might unfold.
Surest Ws: Eastern Kentucky; Syracuse; at Duke.
Surest Ls: Ole Miss; at North Carolina State; Clemson.
Swing Games: UCF; at Florida State; at Wake Forest; Kentucky.
Upset City: The Cards figure to be at least a slight underdog for their Sept. 25 visit to Florida State, and they overwhelmed the Seminoles 48-16 last season. FSU coach Mike Norvell is one season behind Satterfield in his rebuilding plan. The teams have split their last eight games. It sets up as a perfect spot for Louisville to open ACC play with a road win.
Biggest Strength: The vibe around the Louisville defense has been consistently upbeat and confident. There is strength upfront, experienced talent at linebacker, playmakers in the back end and a solid infusion of talent. The defense knocked 70 yards per game off its 2019 average last season, and guys like linebacker C.J. Avery and cornerback Chandler Jones believe the defense will be stronger this season.
Biggest Question: Receiver and running back — and receiver more than running back. Tight ends Marshon Ford and Francis Sherman are the only returnees who had a touchdown catch last season. Braden Smith is the only wide receiver to make more than seven receptions. Jalen Mitchell showed excellent ability while running for 334 over the season’s final four games but he must prove he can hold up over a 12-game season — or get help from Hassan Hall.
Mr. Indispensable: Although quarterback Malik Cunningham struggled with turnovers last season, he is clearly Louisville’s most dynamic offensive player. There is a major drop off from Cunningham to backup Evan Conley in experience and the ability to make something from nothing. If Cunningham can maintain his 64% passing performance while cutting his 12 interceptions in half, he’ll be one of the top three quarterbacks in the ACC.
Breakout Performer: Satterfield rewarded defensive end Ramon Puryear with a scholarship in August. But after two seasons as a walk-on out of Eastern High School, Puryear is determined to be more than a feel-good story. He moved ahead of veteran Tabarius Peterson at left defensive end on the UofL depth chart and will have his chance to contribute.
Did You Know? Satterfield loves play-action passing attempts. According to ProFootballFocus, half of Louisville’s passing attempts came off play-action in 2019, and in 2020, the number was 46%.
Numbers Racket: The Cards are ranked No. 50 nationally by ProFootballFocus, No. 52 in ESPN’s Football Power Index, 65th in Phil Steele’s Power Poll and 72nd in Jeff Sagarin’s predictor computer formula.
- Eric Crawford 6-6: My worry with Louisville is its early schedule. Ole Miss and Central Florida are tough when you're trying to rebuild momentum, and the Cardinals could find themselves 1-2 with mental hurdles to overcome heading into a two-game road swing to open the season. On the upside, I think Malik Cunningham has a better season, the defense keeps improving, and the turnover problems subside to get them back to bowl eligibility.
- Tom Lane, 6-6: The Cardinals lost their three top playmakers, but return QB Malik Cunningham who needs to take better care of the ball. 24 turnovers did in the Cards a year ago.
- John Lewis, 6-6: There's experience at the top of the depth chart but depending on a lot of underclassmen as backups could be trouble in ACC play, especially in the trenches.
- Rick Bozich, 6-6: The defense is positioned to continue the improvement from last season. Plenty of solid, experienced players who have benefitted from the work of coordinator Bryan Brown. The offensive line should be a plus. Malik Cunningham knows what he must fix. A lack of proven playmakers at receiver (especially) and halfback will be the biggest issue for the Cards to overcome.
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