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           ***** NCAA Football Preview - Louisville Cardinals *****
 
 By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
 
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 
 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: After a stellar 2012 campaign, head coach Charlie
 Strong has become one of the most coveted coaches in the country. Rumors
 swirled this offseason that Tennessee and some other high-profile programs had
 interest in Strong. There's no wonder as Strong oversaw one of the best
 seasons in recent memory for Louisville a year ago.
 
 The Cardinals were expected to be a competitive force in the Big East but
 stunned many when they ripped off nine straight wins to open the regular
 season and jump into the national rankings. In early November it looked like
 the Cardinals' armor had begun to lose its luster as Louisville was routed at
 Syracuse (45-26) and lost a head-scratcher in overtime (23-20) to Connecticut.
 However, Louisville then won in a thriller in the final week of the regular
 season at Rutgers (20-17) to collect the Big East title and punch its ticket
 to a BCS Bowl.
 
 Any contingency of people outside of Louisville that gave the Cardinals a shot
 in the Sugar Bowl against SEC power Florida, was minuscule. The mighty SEC
 versus the marginal Big East didn't seem like a matchup that favored the
 men in red. However a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown just 15
 seconds into the contest set the tone for the Cardinals' impressive 33-23
 victory. The Cardinals won their second BCS Bowl game and first since the 2006
 squad went 12-1 and earned a 24-13 win in the Orange Bowl over Wake Forest.
 
 2013 ANALYSIS:
 
 OFFENSE: It wasn't just Strong that rose to prominence in the national
 spotlight last season. His quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, was considered one
 of the better signal callers in the Big East going into 2012. After the
 display he put on in 2012, Bridgewater is now on a short list of Heisman
 Trophy candidates and a likely top 10 pick in the NFL Draft.
 
 What makes Bridgewater so lethal is his alarming accuracy and his ability to
 get the ball deep down field. Bridgewater completed 68.5 percent of his pass
 attempts last season, throwing for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns against just
 eight interceptions. His 8.9 yards per pass average was the fourth best mark
 in the nation. It would be tough to improve on such stellar numbers but a
 repeat performance would be just fine.
 
 Just like the Cardinals themselves, Bridgewater won't be sneaking up on anyone
 this season, but Strong feels he will be able to handle the added pressure.
 
 "I think that when you look back, he really didn't want this team and he
 didn't want to be the leader of his team, but just the way he's grown and
 developed, he has no choice now.  And he's ready to welcome that challenge,"
 Strong said.
 
 Bridgewater has plenty of options to toss the ball to. Devante Parker (40
 receptions, 744 yards, 10 TDs) should be a first-team all-conference selection
 come year's end with his explosive athletic ability. Parker averaged 18.6
 yards per reception and at 6-foot-3 has the size to catch just about anything.
 Eli Rogers (46 receptions, 505 yards) is a dependable target, while Damian
 Copeland (50 receptions, 628 yards) led the team in receptions last season.
 
 Two running backs that dealt with knee injuries last season will carry the
 load in terms of running the football. Senorise Perry split time with Jeremy
 Wright and put up 705 yards rushing, while scoring 11 touchdowns before going
 down to the injury. After successful surgery Perry will be expected to
 continue his strong production. Dominique Brown missed the entire 2012 season
 due to injury but provides the type of power back option that will compliment
 Perry.
 
 The stable of backs will be further bolstered by the addition of Michael
 Dyer. Multiple sources reported in early August that the former Auburn running
 back would be transferring to Louisville. Dyer rushed for more than 1,000
 yards and 15 total touchdowns in two seasons with the Tigers and was the MVP
 of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.
 
 However, Dyer was suspended indefinitely at the end of the 2011-12 campaign
 and then transferred to Arkansas State but was then dismissed before playing a
 snap due to an incident with police. It remains to be seen whether Dyer will
 become the starter or split carries with Perry and Brown.
 
 Two important starters on the offensive line are gone but there are still
 three starters back. Jake Smith is the most prominent figure in the trenches
 and the guard could see some time at center.
 
 DEFENSE: Though Louisville was not exactly a spectacular defensive squad last
 season, the Cardinals found their identity against Florida and will look to
 build off that effort this year. What makes that goal well within reach is the
 fact that the bulk of last year's unit will be back on the field. Nine
 starters return from last season's team.
 
 The secondary has the most talent and the largest chance for star potential.
 Safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor are both punishing tacklers who are
 not afraid to hit hard. Pryor finished with 100 tackles last season and forced
 a team-high five fumbles. Smith had 73 takedowns and seven passes defended.
 Terrell Floyd led the team with three interceptions at the cornerback spot.
 
 Preston Brown (109 tackles) was the leading tackler for Louisville last season
 and he will be back once again at middle linebacker. George Durant (37
 tackles, 4.5 TFL) is a senior linebacker with starting experience, while James
 Burgess is a sophomore that has a lot of upside.
 
 Four different defensive linemen will be back after being full-time starters
 last year. Brandon Dunn, Roy Philon and Jamaine Brooks are a trio of defensive
 tackles that form a nice rotation in the middle and really stuff the run well.
 Defensive end Marcus Smith had four sacks last year and should be even better
 this season.
 
 SPECIAL TEAMS: Adrian Bushell and Wright combined to return 23 of 35 punt
 returns last season but with each gone someone else will need to step up.
 Though Perry returned seven punts, Strong will likely not use him to avoid any
 unnecessary injury risk. Corvin Lamb averaged 18 yards per punt return and
 should get first shot in both punt and kick returns. Freshman James Quick
 could also be a factor.
 
 As a freshman John Wallace knocked in 16-of-21 field goal attempts and 38-
 of-42 PAT. He will be back. Meanwhile Ryan Johnson needs to improve on a weak
 punting average (39.4).
 
 OUTLOOK: Strong has built something impressive at Louisville and after flying
 to such lofty heights last season the thought around campus is another BCS
 Bowl berth is the only way this season would be seen as a success. That's
 just how Strong wants it.
 
 "The theme for us is going to be either we're growing or we're dying, Strong
 said. "If we're growing, we're trying to get better each and every day and
 we're trying to improve the program. If we're dying, we'll be at the
 program that's just going to want to maintain."
 
 Thanks to a weak schedule the Cardinals may even have a shot at a 12-0 season
 and a possible invite to the BCS National Championship. In its first four
 games, Louisville's biggest test is on the road against in-state rival
 Kentucky. Then the American Athletic Conference schedule begins at Temple.
 From there some of the more challenging games in league play are largely at
 home (Rutgers, UCF and Houston). However, the Cardinals do go on the road
 against a UConn team that upset them a year ago before finishing the season at
 Cincinnati, the team considered by many to be the Cardinals' biggest obstacle
 to another league title.
 
 Though Louisville won't be in the AAC for very long, this season it should
 dominate the league. Bridgewater is one of a handful of players in the
 country that has real Heisman potential. The defense should be better as well
 with so much returning experience. It's a long season but if things break
 Louisville's way, the Cardinals could be painting Pasadena red come January.
 
 
 
 08/21 12:05:32 ET