#18 Louisville Football 2017 Preview

Louisville Cardinals
Overall Rank: #18
#3 ACC
Louisville ended the 2016 campaign on a low note. The Cardinals lost their last two regular season games against Houston and Kentucky and then fell 29-9 to LSU in the Citrus Bowl. That tough finish has dampened expectations a bit heading into 2017. It does not help that only four starters return on the offensive side of the ball.
2016 Record: 9-4, 7-1
2016 Bowl: Citrus Bowl vs. LSU (L 9-29)
Coach: Bobby Petrino (67-22 at Louisville, 109-43 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Lonnie Galloway, Mike Summers
Defensive Coordinator: Peter Sirmon
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Lamar Jackson, QB, 1,571 yards
Passing: Lamar Jackson, QB, 3,543 yards
Receiving: Jaylen Smith, WR, 599 yards
Tackles: Stacy Thomas, LB, 85
Sacks: James Hearns, LB, 8.0
Interceptions: Jaire Alexander, CB, 5
Other Key Returnees: RB Jeremy Smith, OL Geron Christian, S Chucky Williams, S Zykiesis Cannon, DL Drew Bailey, CB Trumaine Washington
Key Losses: RB Brandon Radcliff, WR James Quick, TE Cole Hikutini, WR Jamari Staples, DL DeAngelo Brown, LB Keith Kelsey, LB Devonte Fields, LB Josh Harvey-Clemons
One of the four returning starters on offense is Lamar Jackson. And that is a great place to start. The junior quarterback threw for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns and ran for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will be in for another big season in 2017, but he does need to be more efficient. He completed just 56.2 percent of his passes last year and he threw three interceptions in the loss to Kentucky. Not all of that was Jackson’s fault of course. The line was a big problem last year and could continue to be an issue in 2017. Jackson will also struggle for a little while to find new receivers. His top three targets from last year are gone and the expectations are high for sophomore Seth Dawkins. At running back, Jeremy Smith will likely take over as the featured back after the departure of Brandon Radcliff. Freshman Colin Wilson will get a shot at a starting job too. He is a great talent, but it remains to be seen if Wilson is ready to be a featured back.
The defense too must endure quite a few changes, beginning at the top with Peter Sirmon taking over as the defensive coordinator. The line will reload around Drew Bailey and linebacker James Hearns, who often lines up on the end. Hearns tallied a team high 8.0 sacks last season to go along with his 43 tackles. Linebacker Stacy Thomas is the team’s top returning tackler. The secondary returns four starters and should be the strength of the defense. Cornerback Jaire Alexander is one of the best in the AC and intercepted five passes as a sophomore last season. Trumaine Washington will start at the other corner spot. At safety, Checuky Williams and Zykiesis Cannon are experienced seniors.
The Bottom Line:
When Louisville struggled last year, they were making way too many mistakes. This team can ride Jackson’s arm and legs only so far. Against the tougher teams on the schedule, the Cardinals must take care of the ball and be sound defensively. Of course those big games are against ACC Atlantic favorites Clemson and Florida State. Louisville faces Clemson at home on September 16th. Having that game so early in the season will probably favor Clemson while Louisville is retooling their offense around seven new starters and their defense with a new coordinator. The Cardinals have some time before facing Florida State on October 21st, but that game is on the road. This is a very good Louisville team, but they will likely finish behind the Tigers and Seminoles.
Projected Bowl: Camping World Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 242.2 (13th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 290.5 (23, 4)
Total Offense: 532.7 (3, 1)
Scoring Offense: 42.5 (6, 1)
Rushing Defense: 115.2 (12, 3)
Pass Defense: 207.1 (37, 5)
Total Defense: 322.2 (14, 3)
Scoring Defense: 23.8 (31, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.54 (107, 13)
Sacks: 2.31 (45, 9)
Sacks Allowed: 3.62 (124, 14)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#20 Jaire Alexander
#52 Lamar Jackson
#70 Geron Christian
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#114 C.J. Avery
#200 Colin Wilson
#235 Mekhi Becton