The case for
Teddy Bridgewater, a junior, returns as one of the top passers in the country after racking up 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and a 68.5% completion rate in 2012. Bridgewater and the Cardinals, long dogged for their inferior résumé—they move to the ACC next season—trampled heavily favored Florida in last season's Sugar Bowl 33--23, kicking off a surge of momentum that carried into spring practice. There's talent on offense aside from Bridgewater: junior DeVante Parker and senior Damian Copeland headline a skilled receiving corps, while transfer running back Michael Dyer, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher at Auburn, adds a spark to the ground game.
The defense has nine returning starters from the unit that had three sacks and forced three turnovers against the Gators. The unit struggled with consistency last year—especially in head-scratching losses to Syracuse and UConn—but experience should help alleviate that problem.
The case against
Center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper were two mainstays on the line who won't be easy to replace. How Jake Smith handles his move from right guard to center and Jamon Brown his switch from right tackle to left will go a long way toward determining the Cardinals' success.
How much of the program's success can be traced to recruiting in Florida?
Right now we have about 35 players from Florida. That's where it all starts, recruitingwise. There aren't many players in Kentucky. We try to take care of Kentucky, and then we go to Florida.
How much higher is the talent level now than when you took over in 2010?
It's not even close. You're always looking to build depth, and we've been able to go get some outstanding players.
What's improved about Teddy Bridgewater from last year?
Now, this is his football team. He's grown so much as an individual and matured so much. He knows this team will only go as far as he takes them.
On defense, what area needs the most improvement?
It has to be up front. Our defensive line has to play better. If they play better, they can take away the run and make people one-dimensional. It's consistency and playing at a level.
Player to Watch
Junior end Lorenzo Mauldin was emerging as one of the Cardinals' top pass rushers last fall when he partially tore his left MCL. He missed two games but finished as the team leader in sacks, with 4½. Now healthy, Mauldin is the key to a revamped front seven.
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Teddy Bridgewater
Pass: 3,887 yards, 35 TDs
Run: 30 yards, 2 TDs
RB Michael Dyer
Run: 840 yards, 10 TDs
Rec.: 60 yards, 0 TDs
WR DeVante Parker
Rec.: 1,137 yards, 13 TDs
Run: 25 yards, 0 TDs
It's often the biggest criticism of the program, but Louisville again doesn't have a power conference test on its schedule in 2013—not one team in SI's Top 25. A home game against Rutgers on Oct. 10 and a season-ending trip to Cincinnati loom as the biggest obstacles to an undefeated season.
SI Power Ratings
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES (BRIDGEWATER)
GEORGE GOJKOVICH/GETTY IMAGES (STRONG)