It’s tough to know exactly what to make of Louisville’s offense as we get set for the Cardinals' opener against Auburn.
The biggest question, of course, is the quarterback situation. Who will start? How many quarterbacks will play? Are any of the four contenders really good enough to get Louisville past Auburn and into the playoff hunt?
Perhaps the more relevant question, however, is whether Louisville has anyone in its receiving corps who can elevate the performance of whichever quarterback is on the field. It’s certainly unlikely that anyone can compare with DeVante Parker, but it’s also worth noting what an impact Parker made last season.
Despite playing with three different starting quarterbacks, Parker turned Louisville’s offense from drab to dangerous instantaneously. Not only was he a force down the field, but he opened up the entire offense. Sacks were down, rushing was up, red-zone success improved dramatically.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Louisville’s offense will revert to the same form it displayed in early 2014, and for some optimism, we need look no further than the head coach.
Bobby Petrino is an offensive guru. That much we know. But he also doesn’t make life simple for his players, and so it often takes some time to get his game plan down pat. Look back at Petrino’s history, however, and the difference between Year 1 and Year 2 at a school is pretty impressive.
At each of the three stops where he has called plays for multiple years, Petrino’s offenses have taken a big step forward in their second season. Often, this is a function of more production from the quarterback spot. Overall, Petrino’s quarterbacks have improved by more than a yard per pass attempt at each stop.
Can that happen again this season? It certainly would be easier if Parker was still catching those balls, but Petrino’s impact on quarterbacks has gone well beyond the talent at receiver. Though Reggie Bonnafon, Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin all had ups and downs last season, history suggests Year 2 under Petrino will even things out and push the production in a more positive direction.
Parker isn’t an easily replaceable commodity, but if the defense remains consistent and the quarterback play takes a similar step forward, as Petrino’s history would suggest, there is no reason the Cardinals can’t be better overall than they were a year ago. And considering they lost three games -- to Virginia, Florida State and Clemson -- in which they were ahead or tied in the fourth quarter, there is every reason to think a small step forward could mean a big leap up the standings.