Sunday, June 4, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Louisville Cardinals

Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals were a rather big surprise last fall, and they even ended up with the Heisman Trophy winner, despite a fall back the last couple of games, where an rag tag offensive line allowed opposing DCs to tee off on Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals season definitely ended on a sour note, but the Cardinals should be in good shape to make a run at an ACC title in 2017, as there are weapong returning.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
It all starts and ends with the guy who was a human video game during much of last season, Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. He passed for over 3500 yards and and 30 TDs, and added another 1571 yards rushing, with another 21 scores on the ground. He returns to lead what should be a top flight offense across the board.
Brandon Radcliff is gone at RB, but the two seniors returning are both big play capable, and either could have a major breakthrough in 2017. Jeremy Smith rushed for eight scores last fall, and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Malik Williams is also back as a senior, and averaged 7.63 yards per carry.
Former QB Reggie Bonnafon is back at WR, and finished with five receiving scores last fall. Jaylen Smith is the leading returning starter, but will step into a full time starting role for the first time. He is a huge downfield threat, as he averaged over 22 yards per reception last season. He also managed to score six times.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
That line was a mess last season, especially at the end of the year in games against Houston, Kentucky, and LSU. As it stands, only two starters return this fall, so camp ought to be quite a show as several players step up to compete for open jobs. Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil will both be back as juniors, but who knows in what role right now. A long look will be given to true freshman Cole Bentley.
Depth at receiver should not be an issue, but the Cardinal staff has to identify who will be stepping into important roles, especially with James Quick and Jamari Staples both gone.
The loss of Cole Hikutini at TE is a rather large void as well, as he was responsible for 50 receptions and eight scores.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Eight starters return on defense, which is a unit that allowed just 23.8 points per game last season. It all starts up front with the return of Drew Bailey, who led the defensive line last fall with 58 tackles. De'Asian Richardson is back at NT as well after finishing with four TFLs last fall from up the middle.
The Secondary should be a major strength, as four starters return. Jaire Alexander returns after leading the team with five INTs last season. Trumaine Washington has six picks for his career and also returns. Zykeisis Cannon returns after finishing with 64 tackles, and Chucky Williams finished with 74 tackles and three picks.
There are losses at LB for certain, which I will address, but the talent coming back is something to get pumped about. Stacy Thomas is back after finishing with 85 tackles, and Trevon Young finished with 8.5 sacks two seasons ago, and is looking for his way back to that level.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The defense should not be much of an issue in 2017. One of the major issues I have is on the line, where the Cardinals need more from the edge rush than what they have coming back. Bailey is strong, but the Cardinals need something from Chris Williams, or from Kyle Shortridge to add some deeper dimensions up front.
The LB corps lost some serious talent in Devonte Fields and Keith Kelsey. They need to find some pieces that can step up in fall camp, or else the front seven could come apart. James Hearns should step up big after finishing with ten sacks. There is talent, it's just a matter of finding the right fit now.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Purdue, 9/9 at North Carolina, 9/16 Clemson, 9/23 Kent State, 9/30 Murray State, 10/5 at NC State, 10/14 Boston College, 10/21 at Florida State, 10/28 at Wake Forest, 11/11 Virginia, 11/18 Syracuse, 11/25 at Kentucky
Louisville has unfinished business left over from last season. They may return boasting the Heisman winner, but they cannot be happy with the way last season ended, especially after how it began. The schedule is not exactly forgiving this fall, but Clemson looms the largest in the third game at home. The Cardinals got robbed of a win at Clemson last season on a bad call (ball placement), and they have to travel to Florida State, who is seeking big time revenge. Road trips to NC State and Kentucky could be tricky as well. If Louisville can navigate the trap games, and they can figure out the shortcomings on the offensive line, Louisville may be in play to win the ACC.

As always, follow me on Twitter @BiloFootball

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