With spring practice officially underway around the ACC, we’re taking a look at each program, using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching and current and future personnel as indicators. Next up: Louisville.
2015 record: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)
Three-year record: 29-10
Coaching situation: Bobby Petrino is entering Year 3 of his second stint at Louisville, and while the results in the first two seasons haven’t quite matched where Charlie Strong left the program, he’s shepherded the Cardinals into the ACC nicely and has the program poised for bigger things. His support staff, too, has been steady. Garrick McGee has been forced to shuffle through QBs in each of the last two seasons, but Louisville’s offense has remained dangerous. Todd Grantham’s defense has proven to be one of the better units in the league in each of the last two seasons. And while other programs -- including some in the NFL -- have made overtures to lure Petrino’s assistants away, both have chosen to stay. That’s a good sign of stability and an indication of the promise Louisville holds moving forward.
Roster situation: The Cardinals got plenty of good news after the season when a host of underclassmen with NFL futures decided to stay put. Yes, they are losing stars up the middle in Sheldon Rankins and James Burgess, but 16 members of the two-deep on defense return, including Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins, Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields. On offense last season, Louisville endured the growing pains that come with a young group, but as a result, just one regular starter is moving on, and McGee has the luxury of depth at receiver, running back and QB, where Lamar Jackson appears to be a burgeoning star. The biggest looming question is whether the offensive line, which was a disaster for much of 2015, can take a big step forward this offseason.
Recruiting situation: Louisville is not recruiting at the same level as ACC elites like Clemson and Florida State, averaging the 40th-best class over the past three years. But while Petrino continues to make inroads on the recruiting trail, he’s supplemented the talent on the roster with transfers. Harvey-Clemons, Fields and Wiggins all arrived from other programs, and Louisville has scoured the Juco ranks to land players who can make an immediate impact, including corner Ronald Walker and safety London Iakopo this year. Meanwhile, a few home runs -- like Jackson -- among less-heralded recruits have made the talent on the current roster as good as anyone in the ACC after the top two teams.
Trajectory: Rising. There were expected speed bumps as Louisville transitioned from Strong to Petrino and from the American Conference to the ACC. But as Petrino has searched for his QB and developed depth down the roster, there’s hope that the worst of the growing pains are behind them. The impressive bowl performance against Texas A&M only served to heighten those expectations, and if Jackson and the offensive line take a sizable step forward this offseason, it’s entirely possible the Cardinals will be right in the thick of the ACC Atlantic race this year. Add in the hefty investments the school is making to facilities, and the future looks incredibly bright for the Cardinals.