Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Louisville has to find recruiting fit
By Gerry Hamilton
On Sept. 1 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville will begin the 2014 season with a game against the Miami Hurricanes. This will be the Cardinals' first game as a member of the ACC with a schedule that features conference games against Clemson and Florida State, and a late-season matchup with Notre Dame.
That means a lot of prospect eyeballs will be on Louisville all season as the Cardinals make the jump to the ACC in the very competitive Atlantic Division. Out are games in which Louisville should be heavily-favored against Temple, Memphis and Connecticut with little fanfare and viewers watching, and in are competitive toss-up games along with the marquee matchups that are recruiting wins for Louisville, win or lose.
The key to Louisville's success in its new conference will be Bobby Petrino's ability to recruit Florida and Georgia.
For ACC fans, Louisville will bring speed and skill with an excellent offensive mind in coach Bobby Petrino. Louisville will evaluate and recruit high-level offensive talent like it did under Petrino from 2003-06 when the Cardinals won 41 of 50 games and finished in the AP Top 20 three times. The Cardinals also have a head coach that proved he could win at a high level in the SEC at Arkansas with lesser talent than a number of his opponents.
The challenge for Louisville will be continuing to enjoy the same recruiting success it had under Charlie Strong in the key state of Florida, while adjusting to the weekly grind of the ACC, which produces the second-most NFL draft picks annually. Not only did Strong leave for Texas and take his deep Florida roots with him, but a number of NFL draft selections from the 2013 team have waved goodbye, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. That means the challenge of competing from day one in the ACC and setting a tone on the field and in recruiting could be a challenging one.
Toughest competition: Miami (Fla.). The Cardinals have to recruit Florida well to have the same level of speed and talent on defense and at the skill positions as they had under Charlie Strong for four seasons. That means more head-to-head battles with the Hurricanes, now as members of the same conference. Although Louisville will not win many of the those battles, it's a tough task to compete for ACC championships in the future without approaching the talent level of the Seminoles and Clemson Tigers.
Sneakiest competition: Pittsburgh. The Cardinals must have a recruiting presence in Ohio, and there is a very good chance Louisville and Pittsburgh will be going head-to-head on a handful of recruiting battles annually. Ohio is targeted by the Panthers, and with Ohio being the most talented neighboring state to Kentucky, it's imperative that Louisville has a strong presence and wins key recruitments early on to set the tone under Bobby Petrino.
Selling point: The selling points are the simplest part of the recruiting equation for Louisville. There is the obvious move to the ACC. There are nationally televised games on ESPN against Miami (Fla.) and Florida State annually, and a nationally televised game against Notre Dame. The selling point to prospects in Florida and Georgia is that the Cardinals will be playing games in their home states on an annual basis. Then there is the ACC TV contract with ESPN that will be worth $17 million to $20 million annually for each member institution, as well as an underrated facility that impresses once prospects are on campus. In Bobby Petrino, offensive prospects will be recruited knowing that the Cardinals' head coach has a history of putting offensive players in the NFL.
Key to success: Florida and Georgia. Simply put, the Louisville staff Bobby Petrino has assembled must continue to recruit these two talent-laden states at a high level moving forward. On the 2013 Louisville roster, 48 players were from Florida (38) and Georgia (10), including 2014 NFL draft first-round selections Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor and Marcus Smith. Gone is Charlie Strong and his deep Florida roots, along with assistants Ron Dugans, Clint Hurtt, Kerry Carter and Brian Jean-Mary who had a number of years of experience recruiting the Sunshine and Peach states. The Cardinals under Petrino will have a pair of key names recruiting South Florida in Terrell Buckley and Lamar Thomas, but they are cutting their teeth in recruiting at a high level. Greg Brown will handle the Central Florida. With Florida not likely to send as many prospects north to Louisville, the Cardinals must have a stronger presence in Georgia and an added presence in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Moving to the ACC should give the Cardinals more opportunities to land quality prospects out of North and South Carolina over time, as well as a better chance with prospects from Texas and Virginia. The Cardinals could also reap the rewards with transfers, especially from the SEC.