ACC

College football preview: Louisville a work in progress entering second ACC season

Reggie Bonnafon #7 of the Louisville Cardinals comes up short as Justin Simmons #27 of the Boston College Eagles defends during their game Alumni Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
Reggie Bonnafon #7 of the Louisville Cardinals comes up short as Justin Simmons #27 of the Boston College Eagles defends during their game Alumni Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. GETTY

Louisville's second season in the second go-round under coach Bobby Petrino will be as notable for the players that aren't in the program as the ones who still are.

The Cardinals had 10 players taken in the NFL draft in May. Only Florida State lost more players to the draft and that's the same number of total draft picks the program had produced in the previous six years combined.

That's a serious talent drain.

"It does make me very nervous because that's a lot of draft picks," Petrino said recently after the draft, according to The Courier-Journal in Louisville.

After slipping from 12-1 in coach Charlie Strong's last season in 2013 to 9-4 last season under Petrino, the Cardinals should be nervous entering their second ACC season.

The Cards, who went 5-3 in their first season in ACC play, have major holes to fill in the secondary and on the offensive line.

They also have to replace receiver DeVante Parker, who caught 43 passes for 855 yards in an injury-shortened season. If Parker, the first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins, had played more than six games, the Cards almost certainly would have won more games.

Their problems on offense last year without Parker are indicative of the challenges this year's team will face. Without Parker and a revolving door at quarterback, Louisville's offense dropped from No. 28 (460.8 yards per game) in the country in total offense in 2013 to No. 72 (394.7 yards per game) in 2014.

Petrino, whose strength is play-calling, should be helped with some continuity at quarterback. Three starters tried to replace Teddy Bridgewater (a first-round pick in 2014) with varying success.

Sophomore Reggie Bonnafon, who started five games last season, seemingly took control of the job in the spring. His elusiveness (five rushing touchdowns as a freshman) will be an asset behind a rebuilt offensive line.

With only two players who started more than seven games back from last year, Petrino's not just resorting to coachspeak when he says the offense is a "work in progress."

The defense carried Louisville last season and likely will have to again. The Cards ranked No. 6 in total defense (308.5 yards per game) and No. 24 in scoring (21.8 points per game).

Four starters in the secondary need to replaced, including safety Gerod Holliman who tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions, but there's still a strong core up front led by senior defensive end Sheldon Rankins.

"I feel really good about what we have coming back on defense," Petrino said.

And Petrino should, with some a major transfer additions providing immediate help in the secondary, but after inheriting a stacked deck, the real work begins for the Louisville coach.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

ACC preview schedule

Atlantic Division

May 31: No. 1 Florida State

June 7: No. 2 Clemson

June 14: No. 3 N.C. State

June 21: No. 4 Louisville

June 28: No. 5 Boston College

July 5: No. 6 Syracuse

July 12: No. 7 Wake Forest

Coastal Division

July 19: No. 1 Virginia Tech

July 26: No. 2 Georgia Tech

Aug. 2: No. 3 UNC

Aug. 9: No. 4 Duke

Aug. 16: No. 5 Pitt

Aug. 23: No. 6 Miami

Aug. 30: No. 7 Virginia

Louisville at a glance

2014: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)

Coach: Bobby Petrino (50-13, sixth year at Louisville)

Returning starters: Offense (3), Defense (4), Special teams (2)

Plus

▪  If you're going to add talent, you might as well get it from the SEC. Louisville has two transfers from Georgia, both cornerback Shaq Wiggins and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons are expected to start, and one from Texas A&M (receiver Ja'Quay Savage).

Savage, at 6-3 and 214 pounds, might be the best option to offset the loss of DeVante Parker.

The Cards also have junior defensive end Devonte Fields, who was the Big 12 defensive player of the year at TCU in 2012.

▪  Sophomore running back Brandon Radcliffe led the team in rushing yards (737) and touchdowns (12) despite getting one carry or less in four ACC games.

Assuming Bobby Petrino's running back Ouija board lands, and stays, on the bruising sophomore, he should produce big numbers.

Minus

▪  Offensive linemen Jamon Brown, John Miller and Jake Smith had 138 career starts between them and have to be replaced. Brown and Miller were third-round picks.

▪  Five players caught 25 or more passes last season, four of them have to be replaced. Junior James Quick (34 catches for 509 yards) is the only veteran receiver on the roster.

Best-case scenario

The defense is as good as Petrino thinks it is, the offensive line comes together quickly and quarterback Reggie Bonnafon takes a leap to lead the Cards to a split with Clemson and Florida State and the Atlantic Division title.

Worst-case scenario

The defense doesn't produce as many turnovers (30), the line doesn't come together, the transfers can't stay out of trouble and the schedule turns out to be more than the Cards can handle as they stumble to 6-6.

Bottom line

There's still talent here, and both FSU and Clemson are vulnerable in the Atlantic Division, but the dropoff from 12-1 in 2013 continues with an 8-win season.

Newcomer to watch

Devonte Fields, DE

Fields had 10 sacks as a freshman at TCU in 2012 and was the Big 12 defensive player of the year. A foot injury cut his 2013 season short, then he was dismissed from the team after a domestic-violence related assault charge.

After a year at junior college, the 6-4, 245-pound pass-rush specialist has two years of eligibility with the Cardinals.

Schedule

Sept. 5 vs. Auburn (Atlanta)

Sept. 12 Houston

Sept. 17 Clemson

Sept. 26 Samford

Oct. 3 at N.C. State

Oct. 10 OPEN

Oct. 17 at Florida State

Oct. 24 Boston College

Oct. 30 at Wake Forest

Nov. 7 Syracuse

Nov. 14 Virginia

Nov. 21 at Pitt

Nov. 28 at Kentucky

Schedule analysis

There are few breaks here for a team in transition that could use a few more.

Out of the gate the Cards get Auburn, which will probably start the season ranked in the top 5, and a dangerous enough Houston (8-5 last year) team. Then Clemson comes in for a Thursday night game.

The Cards won two out of three from N.C. State, Virginia and Kentucky last year and will probably need a sweep to keep up with last year's 9-win pace.

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