Three things we learned in the spring about the Louisville Cardinals:
Will Gardner emerges at QB. Teddy Bridgewater leaves behind big shoes to fill, and now it falls to Gardner to pick up where he left off. Gardner emerged as the starter this spring, and new coach Bobby Petrino praised him for not only gaining the respect of his teammates but picking up the complex offense and growing each day during practice.
Gerald Christian could be a force. Petrino likes to use the tight end in his scheme, meaning this could be a breakout year for Christian, a Florida transfer who did not get many opportunities under the old coaching staff. Christian has good hands, and made big strides in the spring. He could be an invaluable part of the offense and top the 28 receptions he had a season ago.
Sheldon Rankins emerges up front. Rankins has been a backup defensive tackle for most of his career, but he has seized the opportunity this spring with a starting job on the line. Now playing end and some nose guard, Rankins had one of the best springs of anybody on defense. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Rankins was dominant. Louisville will need that dominance from him after losing three starters up front.
Three questions for the fall:
Safety. Not only did the Cardinals lost the top safety duo in its conference from last season, they do not have much depth at the position, either. They did sign former Washington player James Sample to help shore up the position, but beyond the top three players on the depth chart, this remains an area of concern. Especially since former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons has to sit out a year when he arrives on campus.
Offensive line. Along the same lines, there also are depth concerns along the offensive line. Four starters return, with a combined 112 career starts. But beyond that group, there are far too many unknowns. Louisville may end up relying on several true freshmen just for depth.
Jump up in play. Perhaps the biggest question is -- how will Louisville fare now that it is in a more difficult conference, facing the most difficult schedule in school history? Plenty of talented players return, but Louisville does not have time to get adjusted, not when it opens the season up against Miami on national television.
One way-too-early prediction:
Louisville will win at least eight games. The Cardinals do have a hard schedule and play in the toughest division in the ACC. But they should win at least three nonconference games and be in position to win every ACC game despite losing players like Bridgewater. Charlie Strong left behind a strong foundation. Petrino has dealt with a tougher conference, and knows what it takes to win.