Overview: The Cardinals were the nation's fourth highest-scoring team in 2006 and should be even better in 2007 with QB Brian Brohm back to make a run at the Heisman Trophy. He has two NFL-caliber receivers and an experienced line to help him out. If the running-back-by-committee approach continues to work as well as it did a year ago the Cardinals could be close to unstoppable.
LOUISVILLE TOP 10
Brian Brohm returns to lead one of the nation's most talented offensive units.
Best player: Brohm is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate and (barring injury) probably will be a first-round NFL draft choice. He could even be the first pick.
Most overrated: His 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame draws a lot of attention to WR Mario Urrutia, and he undoubtedly is a huge threat in every sense. But he's not even the Cardinals' best receiver.
Most underrated: Speedy WR Harry Douglas tends to get overshadowed by Urrutia, but he had 70 catches for a school-record 1,265 yards and was first team All-Big East in 2006.
Must step up: The availability of Marcel Benson, a probable starter at G, is uncertain after he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a condition that causes a rapid heart rate. If he can't play then redshirt freshman Jeffrey Adams or sophomore Mike Donoghue or someone else will have to take over at right guard.
Impact newcomer: The Cardinals are so good and experienced that newcomers will have a hard time getting on the field. However, freshman WR Doug Beaumont has the potential to make a significant contribution as a third receiver.
Battle to watch: Three places in the offensive line are set, but playing time could be won at the right side. As mentioned, Benson's illness opens up opportunities at guard. Adams could also challenge converted TE Breno Giacomini at tackle.
New in 2007: Former coach Bobby Petrino favored a two-back power rushing attack, while this season's running game figures to use more misdirection plays.
Grade the units: QB - A: Brohm has a school-record 66.3 career completion percentage. He could replace John Unitas as the school's most heralded QB. Well, he might if he wins that trophy.
RB - B: George Stripling and Anthony Allen, who had a solid freshman year in '06, both rushed for more than 400 yards in a backup role. Brock Bolen is a bruising fullback.
WR/TE - A: Urrutia and Douglas form the best receiving tandem in the Big East, and perhaps the country. Senior TE Gary Barnidge is coming off the most productive season of his career.
Line -- B: C Eric Wood and LT George Bussey are All-Big East selections, and Danny Barlowe is entrenched at left guard. The right side has some issues that must be resolved.
Breaking down the defense
Overview: The Louisville defense doesn't draw nearly as much attention as the offense even though last season the Cardinals held nine of 13 opponents to 17 points or fewer. Of course, DT Amobi Okoye and CB William Gay, both NFL draft picks, and LB Nate Harris, last year's leading tackler are gone, so there are repairs to be done. Overall, the LB corps, led by Malik Jackson, should remain an area of strength, and the potential is there for the Cards to remain solid up front.
Best player: DT Adrian Grady requires double-team blocking and was slowed by injuries a year ago, but remains a force up front. He's also the Cards' emotional leader.
at N.C. State
at West Virginia
at South Florida
Most overrated: Branding S Brandon Heath overrated may seem a big harsh, but he came to Louisville as a four-star prospect with potential to make a quick impact. Instead, he redshirted (injuries were a factor) and may not show up on the two-deep this year.
Most underrated: MLB Lamar Myles was a reserve behind Harris most of last season, but took over starting responsibilities late last year and proved an equally powerful hitter and more consistent.
Who must perform: Earl Heyman started at DE and DT last year. This year he'll take over the spot vacated by Okoye, which puts even more pressure on him to perform.
Impact newcomer: Turenne has a good shot to win a starting job. A five-star prospect, he was rated the nation's top junior college player of 2006.
Position battle: Buchanan is experienced and went into the spring as a starter at CB, but holding off Turenne will be a difficult task.
New in 2007: The secondary definitely has a different look with three new starters needed to replace Gay, Gavin Smart and Brandon Sharp. However, junior Rod Council would have started all last season if not for an ankle injury and still managed to get back in the starting lineup for the Orange Bowl.
Grade the units: Line - B: Although two starters are gone, including Okoye, the Cardinals feel good about DE Deantwan Whitehead and Grady. Heyman's experience at DT is also a plus.
LB - A: Louisville has a ton of talent and depth there. Jackson has All-Big East credentials, Myles proved himself down the stretch last year and Preston Smith is a three-year starter. Senior Terrance Butler is an experienced backup. Also, Willie Williams, once a five-star prospect and former Miami Hurricane, adds depth after transferring from West Los Angeles Community College.
DB - C: If Louisville has a weakness it is here. Losing Gay, an all-conference talent, and two other starters raises concerns. Council is solid and S Johnathan Russell has shown big-play ability, but this unit has a lot of prove.
Breaking down the special teams
Overview: There is a new special teams coach but the same kicker, so count on Louisville to remain strong in the kicking game. K Art Carmody is an All-American and Groza Award winner and holds school records for field goals and points. The punting is serviceable though unspectacular, and blazing JaJuan Spillman is dangerous returning kickoffs. The punt return team needs to get better.
Season outlook with bowl forecast
Size does matter. The Cardinals have reached a bowl game every year since 1998, but anything short of a BCS game --- preferably the big one in New Orleans for the national championship --- translates to disappointment. That goal is dependent on a November stretch in which the Cardinals travel to West Virginia for a Thursday night game on Nov. 8, head to South Florida the following week and then play host to Rutgers in the regular-season finale. Kentucky and North Carolina State are possible traps earlier in the season, but November remains the key to the Cardinals' season.
Best player: Carmody is unusually good and practices in an unusual manner. He works on his accuracy by kicking at a dramatic angle, placing the ball at the sideline on the 10-yard line.
Grade the units: K - A+: Carmody has converted 57 of 66 field goal attempts (86 percent) in his career.
P - C: On the negative side, Corey Goettshe and Todd Flannery both averaged fewer than 40 yards an attempt last season. On the positive side, Louisville's offense isn't conducive to punters getting a lot of work.
KR - B: Spillman averaged 27.9 yards on 15 returns last season, and that included a 100-yard touchdown against Rutgers.
PR - C: Spillman could be used there, too, after averaging 12 yards on six returns last season. If not, Patrick Carter or Trent Guy probably will handle those chores.
Breaking down the coaching
Overview: Kragthorpe, who raised his profile with a successful stint at Tulsa in which he guided the Golden Hurricane to three bowl games in four years, has already won over the Louisville players with a more approachable personality than that of his predecessor, Bobby Petrino. Now, he hopes to win over the fans by continuing Petrino's success. He'll employ a spread offense similar to that run at Florida. We'll see whether it has similar results.
Grade the coaches: HC: A - Five years ago Kragthorpe took over a Tulsa program that won a total of two games in two seasons. He left Tulsa having led the Hurricane to at least eight victories in three of four seasons there.
Offense - B: Only two offensive coaches --- Jeff Brohm and Greg Nord --- from the previous staff stayed, so setting a grade might seem unfair. However, Kragthorpe's teams scored 30 points or more 29 times and at least 40 points 10 times. He was also offensive coordinator when Texas A&M won its only Big 12 championship.
Defense - A: Louisville has been a fixture among the nation's top 40 in total defense in four years under coordinator Mike Cassity, who had offers but opted to stay at Louisville.
Special teams - B+: History indicates newly hired special teams coach Mark Nelson will be an upgrade. He had significant success in that role in previous stops at Baylor and Kentucky, where his special teams set or tied five NCAA records and nine Southeastern Conference records.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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