FILING IN THE BLANKS
Top Ten (continued).........
Two weeks ago I began unveiling my preseason Division 1 college football top 10, beginning with the number 10 team in the poll, Wisconsin. In this week's article I will continue revealing the top 10 teams in ascending order with number nine, Louisville.
The University of Louisville is not only a real threat to win the Big East title, they also hold out hope for a national championship. The Cardinals are coming off a 12-1 campaign with their only loss to Rutgers 28-25, despite having an early 25-7 lead.
The offense, which averaged 37.8 points per game last year, is in the capable hands of senior quarterback Brian Brohm. Brohm is a skilled and highly touted signal caller who has guided Louisville to 21 victories in the past two seasons. He is a very accurate passer, completing 63.6 percent of his passes, in 2006, for 3048 yards, despite missing two games to injury. He will be one of the highest rated quarterbacks entering next year's NFL draft and gives the Cardinals something every championship team needs: an experienced quarterback.
Of course Brohm cannot do it by himself and he won't have to. Louisville returns seven other starters on offense, including first team Big East wide receiver Harry Douglas and second team Big East wide receiver Mario Urrutia. Douglas led the team in receiving, snaring 70 passes for 1265 yards and six touchdowns, while Urrutia, a 6-6 speedster, hauled in 58 passes for 973 yards and six scores. Patrick Carter, Chris Vaughn and Corey Thompson should provide adequate depth at the wide receiver position.
Gary Barnidge returns for his senior season and should be a reliable target from his tight end position. In fact Barnidge is probably licking his chops as the tight ends were used extensively in new head coach Steve Kragthorpe's offense at Tulsa.
Starting running back Kolby Smith, who filled in admirably for injured Michael Bush in 2006, graduated, but a pair of talented backs are anxious to show that they can replace Smith as effectively as Smith replaced Bush.
Expect the Cardinals to have a two-headed monster lining up behind Brohm in Anthony Allen and Brock Bolen. Allen averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season, rushing for 406 and 13 touchdowns on 96 carries. Bolen, an Illinois transfer, added 296 yards, averaging more than six yards per carry. Though there are no proven superstars at running back, their is plenty of depth and talent to give Louisville a solid option on the ground.
The offensive line will be anchored by center Eric Wood and first team Big East left tackle George Busey. Though the Cardinals must replace the entire right side of the offensive line, there shouldn't be much drop off with seven of the top 10 linemen from 2006 returning, including a pair of highly regarded JUCO transfers that have had a year in the program to become adjusted to Division 1 play.
Defensively Louisville must replace five starters, but feel confident that they can do just that and improve on their defensive statistics from 2006.
Along the defensive front, Louisville must replace first round NFL draft pick Amboi Okoye and reliable defensive end Zach Anderson. Okoye had eight sacks and seven tackles for losses from his tackle spot and will be the toughest defensive lineman to replace.
Peanut White, who started 10 games as a true freshman last year at defensive end, should anchor a group of talented and experienced defensive linemen. Juniors Adrian Grady and Earl Heyman, who have plenty of experience, should start at the defensive tackle positions, while senior Brandon Cox will probably man the other defensive end position.
The linebackers should be the strength of the Cardinals defense, with second team Big East linebacker Malik Jackson returning for his senior season. Highly touted newcomer Willie Williams and middle linebacker Lamar Myles will likely start at the other two linebacking positions. Williams, a transfer from the University of Miami, could make a major impact, while junior middle linebacker Myles returns 45 tackles, two sacks and two tackles for losses from 2006.
If the Cardinals have a "kink in their armor" it could be in the secondary. Heavy losses to graduation included first team Big East cornerback William Gay, along with fellow cornerback Gavin Smart and second team Big East safety Brandon Sharp. Louisville is hoping JUCO transfer Woodny Turenne along with some veteran backups can provide the Cardinals the strong secondary they will need to stay atop the national polls.
Louisville will likely battle West Virginia University for the Big East title and have an excellent opportunity, if everything works out the way they hope, to end the season in a BCS Bowl game. However there are two major questions that Louisville must answer, starting with coaching, before they are anointed champions, including one on coaching..
Bobby Petrino left for the NFL and was replaced by Kragthorpe who was the head coach at Tulsa the past four years. Kragthorpe led the Golden Hurricane to three consecutive winning seasons and post-season bowl games. He was able to turn the Tulsa program around, but will he be able to maintain the excellence Louisville displayed on the gridiron during the Petrino era. The Cardinals must also show that they can replace the defensive personnel that held opponents to 16.3 points per game in 2006, their best showing since 1995.
If the answers to those two questions are favorable, Louisville should have an outstanding season and give their fans much to cheer about.
Next week, number eight.