Coach: Charlie Strong (25-15 overall, 25-14 at Louisville)
2012 record: 11-2
Key losses: RB Jeremy Wright, C Mario Benavides
Newcomer to watch: RB Michael Dyer
Biggest games in 2013: at Kentucky (Sept. 14), at Cincinnati (Dec. 5)
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: What will become of the Michael Dyer experiment at Louisville? After making headlines for frequently getting in trouble at Auburn, Dyer joins Louisville for his last season of eligibility, hoping to rebuild his reputation and showcase his talent once again. Strong said Dyer is under a zero-tolerance policy and he had to sign a behavior contract to join the program. While he’s a high-risk addition, if Dyer stays out of trouble and plays up to his potential, he could make Louisville a nearly unstoppable offensive force with the combination of him and Bridgewater.
Forecast: Expectations for Louisville will be higher for this season than they have ever been with Bridgewater’s potential to be Louisville’s first Heisman Trophy winner. Strong said Louisville won’t launch a campaign for Bridgewater because he doesn’t think it’s necessary with the evolution of social media and the attention every top player gets now without campaigns.
“I think that he can handle it,” Strong said. “I think that he knows what's ahead of him and what he has to get accomplished.”
Since the Heisman has evolved into a team award, the success of Louisville’s season will factor into Bridgewater’s Heisman candidacy, so the Cardinals’ relatively weak strength of schedule could hurt him.
Outside of playing in-state rival Kentucky, the Cardinals' nonconference schedule isn’t expected to cause any hiccups in Louisville’s campaign to win the American Athletic Conference. Louisville’s season will likely come down to its final game against Cincinnati, which stole two first-place votes from Louisville in the preseason media poll. Despite the threat of the Bearcats on Dec. 5, Louisville has the potential to go undefeated with the addition of Dyer and an improved defense.
Strong was a defensive coordinator for the 2010 Florida team that was entering a season after winning a national championship, and as Louisville enters this season after winning the Sugar Bowl, he wants to make sure the team enjoys each win and doesn’t let the pressure of expectations impact that enjoyment.
“There will be some games we're going to be favored and we may walk out of there with a three-point victory, but who cares?” Strong said. “We won the game. Are people going to say you didn't beat them by 30? It's all about us making sure that we maintain our focus and making sure, 'You know what, guys, at the end of the day, just win the football game.'”