It is time to take a last look back at how each Big East team fared in 2011 with season-ending report cards.
Up today: Louisville
Offense: The Cardinals got better as the season went on, thanks to young players improving, a switch at offensive coordinator and the emergence of Big East Newcomer of the Year Teddy Bridgewater. But that doesn't mean everything was peachy in 2011 for the Cardinals. They were worse offensively than they were a year ago with Bilal Powell gone and much shakier offensive line. Louisville went from No. 1 in the league in rushing offense to No. 5, down an average of 50 yards a game. Scoring offense and total offense were down as well. Louisville gave up 20 more sacks this season than a year ago as they had to overcome youth and injuries. If there was one area coach Charlie Strong wanted to see get better, it was getting more consistency in the run game. Last season, Louisville averaged 4.8 yards per rush. This season it was 3.4. The Cardinals also had more turnovers as well, losing the ball 22 times compared to 16 a year ago. All that adds up to a pretty average year on offense.
Defense: This group was dominating at times, but also had a few mental lapses at times as well. You can probably point to a few of those as a big reason Louisville lost to FIU at home. Still, you have to give this unit credit for playing through some key injuries to important players like Greg Scruggs, Randy Salmon, B.J. Butler and Anthony Conner, plus the suspension of starting safety Shenard Holton. Louisville finished No. 2 in the league in total defense, though it did give up about 20 yards more per game this season than last. The Cardinals were hugely improved on rush defense, giving up about 40 yards fewer per game. The front line was the strength of this team, even with all the injuries, because so many young players were playing on the back end.
Overall: Things appeared headed for doom when Louisville opened the season 2-4, with losses to FIU and Marshall. But the Cardinals were able to overcome the slow start and pick up a huge win at West Virginia, along with a share of the Big East title for the first time since 2006. Did things go perfectly? No. There were some bad losses, and some good wins as this team figured out how to mature and grow up. Seeing Bridgewater and his young receivers get better was a positive. But there were also times when this team appeared to be unfocused and unable to capitalize on some of its success. Do you give Louisville a great grade for winning a share of the league or do you downgrade for the overall 7-6 record? I give more weight to the conference crown and the way the season finished up. After all, this team far exceeded expectations.