A year ago, Louisville installed new schemes on both sides of the ball, lost its best player for half the season, started three different QBs and still won nine games. So while there’s some key turnover this year, the expectations haven’t dipped much, and Bobby Petrino still has plenty of talent to work with.
Best-case scenario: As usual, Clemson and Florida State hog the bulk of the Atlantic hype, and even NC State has grabbed the “dark horse” label. But Louisville is still quietly lurking beneath the radar with a team easily capable of winning the division. The opener against Auburn will be a true litmus test, but a 9-2 or 10-1 run the rest of the way wouldn’t be out of the question regardless.
Worst-case scenario: The defense takes a step back without its departed stars, no QB emerges from the pack and the offense can’t find a weapon to replace DeVante Parker. If all that happens, it could be a long year in Louisville -- but still would probably equate to six wins and a bowl berth.
Most important player: This is a toss-up. On offense, Louisville appears poised to turn things over to Reggie Bonnafon, and his athleticism at QB can add another dimension to Petrino’s attack. On defense, the Cardinals need transfer Devonte Fields to make a quick transition to outside linebacker and be a disruptive force on that side of the ball.
Breakout player: The Cards probably can’t find anyone to replace the impact Parker had on the offense last year, but if someone’s going to step up in the passing game, it’s probably junior James Quick, who had 36 catches and three touchdowns a year ago.
Most important game: The toughest game may well be the opener against Auburn, but the more important one comes 12 days later when the Cardinals host Clemson in a game that could shape the direction of the ACC Atlantic race for the rest of the season.
Class of 2015 signee to watch: Pass-rusher Devonte Fields. If Fields isn’t the signee who has the biggest impact, it will be an upset. Fields is a dynamic pass-rushing talent who was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year at TCU in 2012. He will play in a standup position in the Cardinals' 3-4 defense but could also put his hand on the ground whenever called up. He has a lot to prove after the off-the-field issues that led to his departure from TCU. -- Gerry Hamilton
Class of 2016 storyline: It's all about evaluation and recruiting key states for the Cardinals. That means reeling in prospects early who may have been slow-played by some SEC powers and then hanging on until signing day when programs circle back to make late runs at prospects committed elsewhere. In the 2016 class, those guys for Louisville are quarterback Tylin Oden out of Tennessee, defensive tackle Caleb Tillman out of Alabama and defensive end Michael Boykin out of Georgia. -- Gerry Hamilton