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Midseason review: Louisville

10/11/2010

Louisville Cardinals

Record: 3-2 (0-0 Big East)

It's still hard to tell just how good Louisville is this season. But this much appears obvious: the Cardinals are a lot better than they were a year ago.

They have beaten the teams on their schedule they should have dispatched (Eastern Kentucky, Arkansas State and Memphis) while losing to the ones they weren't favored to beat (Kentucky and Oregon State). But more important than the wins and losses is how they have played.

After falling behind in a quick hole in the opener against Kentucky, Louisville competed well the rest of the way and made it a game. It had a chance to tie Oregon State in the final minute on the road in a place where the Beavers rarely lose. Credit first-year coach Charlie Strong and his staff for instilling confidence in a team that has missed the postseason for three straight years and generally was viewed as having the least amount of talent in the Big East.

You wouldn't know that by the numbers, though, as the Cardinals shockingly lead the league in total offense, are second in points scored and are tied for first in sacks. They had their best performance last time out in a 56-0 shellacking against Memphis in a game reminiscent of the Petrino Era against a bad opponent.

The competition level is about to increase with the arrival of conference play. But Louisville can no longer be counted out.

Offensive MVP, RB Bilal Powell: Strong called Powell the "face of the program" in the offseason even though the senior had never topped the 400-yard mark in his career. Strong knew what he was saying. Powell is second in the Big East and eighth nationally with 689 rushing yards while averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He is a legitimate star, and along with Victor Anderson, gives Louisville a potent running attack.

Defensive MVP, DE Rodney Gnat: Strong challenged Gnat in the preseason to live up to his physical tools and potential. So far, mission accomplished. Gnat, a senior, leads the Big East with 6.5 sacks, giving Louisville its first standout pass rusher since the pre-Kragthorpe days.