Miami opens the 2014 season against Louisville on Labor Day night in a rematch of the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl matchup, which the Cardinals easily won 36-9.
We all knew they would play in 2014, but facing each other in consecutive games begs the question: Are the Cards 27 points better than Miami some seven months after the bowl game?
My answer to that is no, for a variety of reasons.
1. No Teddy Bridgewater. The biggest difference between the teams in December was at quarterback. Bridgewater completely shredded the Hurricanes, throwing for 447 yards and three touchdowns in his final collegiate game. Without him, Louisville faces major questions at the position. New coach Bobby Petrino may be an offensive genius, but he will be operating his group with an unproven quarterback, inconsistent running backs (Louisville ranked No. 86 in the nation in rushing in 2013) and a mediocre offensive line. Losing Bridgewater will expose many of the weaknesses he was able to cover up with his superior ability to manage the offense.
2. Hello, Duke Johnson. Miami struggled to win after Johnson was injured against Florida State. In seven games against FBS teams with Johnson in the starting lineup, Miami averaged 180.3 yards per game rushing. In five games without Johnson, Miami averaged 99.6 yards rushing. His was desperately missed in the bowl game, as the Canes managed just 14 yards rushing and could not do anything to give Stephen Morris any other options. No run game meant Louisville could totally tee off on Morris, who was sacked four times. Miami also failed to convert on 11 third-down attempts. While it is true the Canes will be starting a new quarterback, Johnson gives Miami something Louisville does not have -- a dynamic runner with the ability to make explosive plays.
3. Major losses to Louisville D. The Cardinals lose seven starters on defense, including five in the front seven. Linebacker Preston Brown (who led the team in tackles), defensive end Marcus Smith (who led the nation in sacks), and the terrific safety duo of Hakeem Smith (first-team All-AAC) and Calvin Pryor (second in tackles) happened to be four of the best players on the 2013 team. There will be a new defensive scheme and new defensive coordinator in Todd Grantham, who has run the 3-4 and is expected to make that change to this unit. Expect some unfamiliarity in the first game of the season.
What is particularly interesting is the way expectations for Louisville have suddenly grown with Petrino back in charge. My colleague, Mark Schlabach, only put Louisville into his updated Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 after Petrino was hired. His track record speaks for itself, but Petrino faces the same personnel questions Charlie Strong did before leaving for Texas. The Cards will not be as good on Sept. 1 as they were last Dec. 28, no matter who is coaching this group.
None of this is to say Miami will waltz into Louisville and win. The Hurricanes have their own questions to answer at quarterback and with their defense, a group that has not been up to par over the last several seasons. They are the ones that must prove the bowl performance is not a sneak preview of what is to come in 2014. For their sake, it can't be. They'll also face a more difficult schedule in 2014 than 2013.
But given the changes Louisville has undergone, the bowl game should have no bearing on the rematch.