Spring football 25: Louisville Cardinals

Dr. Saturday will be looking at the 25 most interesting teams headed into spring football through March, examining which programs have the biggest questions, the most expectations and the best storylines. This isn’t a list of the 25 best teams going into the spring, just the 25 we’re keeping the closest eye on. Previously: Ole Miss

What happened in 2012
Louisville’s season was full of lots of highs and a few lows, but the most exciting part came at the end when the Cardinals came back to beat Rutgers and win the Big East title, and then took down Florida in a stunning Sugar Bowl result.

Both wins were thanks to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who played both games injured, but managed to lead his team to improbable victories. This is a possible preseason top 10 team with Bridgewater back as well as 19 other players with starting experience in a Big East that’s as wide open as it gets.

What makes them interesting in 2013
The Cardinals ended last season on such a high note – and played so well during the bulk of the year – that all eyes will be on Louisville when the season begins. Not to mention Bridgewater will be among the early names mentioned for the Heisman Trophy given his 2012 performance.

But the onus will fall on coach Charlie Strong to keep his team grounded in what is virtually a new Big East and challenge them to an undefeated season. Given the Cardinals schedule, that’s not too tall of a task. However, we’ll see if going undefeated in a Big East that’s mostly made up of former Conference USA teams is enough to warrant national championship talk.

What needs to happen this spring
The Louisville offense loses three main starters from last year, but the losses on the offensive line are probably the biggest concern. Left tackle Alex Kupper and center Mario Benavides, who was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s best center, are both gone. Kameron Joyer seems to be the favorite at center while Abraham Garcia will be the frontrunner at left tackle. Bridgewater took a bit of a beating late in the season, which made for a tough two-game losing streak late in the year, so it will be important for the new guys to gel with left guard John Miller, right guard Jake Smith and right tackle Jamon Brown this spring.

Defensively, the Cards will need to find a replacement for two-time All-Big East cornerback Adrian Bushell, who ranked fourth on the team with 62 tackles. Terell Floyd, who led the team with three interceptions, including one he ran back for a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl, will be the new leader of the secondary and called upon to maintain what was the Big East’s best pass defense a year ago.

While the pass defense was nails, the Cardinals had trouble getting in the backfield. They were last in the conference in sacks and tackles for loss.

The Louisville running game was one of the few shortcomings of an otherwise talented offense. The team averaged just 122.69 yards per game and ranked 102nd nationally. Leading rushers Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry are question marks heading into this spring. Perry tore his ACL late last season and Wright is not currently enrolled in classes.

Game changers
Running backs Dominique Brown and Corvin Lamb will get the majority of the carries this spring while Wright and Perry are on the shelf. There’s no doubt the running game needs to become a major player in the Louisville offense if the Cardinals want to push for another BCS bowl and perhaps a national championship, and this unproven duo will have to spearhead it. Lamb had nine carries for 40 yards last year and that’s pretty much the extent of the experience. Brown and Lamb have a chance to be stars in the offense, but they have to prove their worth this spring.

Wild cards
With so many returning starters, there aren’t a lot of wild cards, though special teams definitely needs a boost. Lamb is the only returning kick returner and he was behind Bushell, Perry and Wright in the pecking order. But, he did have two returns for 36 yards, which isn’t bad, especially since the Cardinals were 118th nationally in kickoff returns with 17.31 yards per game. This is yet another opportunity for Lamb, a rising sophomore, to make himself an indispensible member of the offense.

Key games
Sept. 14 at Kentucky
Oct. 10 Rutgers
Oct. 18 Central Florida
Dec. 5 at Cincinnati

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Check out Dr. Saturday's other spring previews: Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, Stanford, South Carolina , Baylor, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Clemson, West Virginia, Missouri , Tulsa, Arkansas, LSU.

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