Record: 7-5, 5-2 Big East
Here we have the preseason choice to finish seventh in the conference, simply because so many key senior players were gone from this team. Even coach Charlie Strong knew he would be relying heavily on his younger players to try and get this team back to a bowl game. It was not easy at the beginning of the season, as injuries, inexperience and a slow-moving offense contributed to a 2-4 start. Strong replaced offensive coordinator Mike Sanford with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, and it took a bit of time for Louisville fans to see more happening on offense.
What helped was the move of Dominique Brown from quarterback to running back. That seemed to add spark to the run game. The vast improvement of the Louisville offensive line also helped take the pressure off true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The defense, stopped giving up the big play and started being more consistent. Despite injuries, especially up front, the Cardinals held their own and turned a 2-4 start into a 7-5 season and conference championship.
Offensive MVP: Bridgewater. Bridgewater came on in relief of Will Stein against Kentucky and led the Cardinals to a win over their in-state rivals. He never relinquished the starting job, and set a school record for passing yards by a freshman with 1,855.
Defensive MVP: Dexter Heyman, LB. Heyman led the team with 83 tackles and also ranked No. 3 in the Big East with 15.5 tackles for loss. He was consistent all season and the big-time leader of a very young group. He also was one of the few who were able to stay healthy for the entire season.
Turning Point: A 16-14 win over Rutgers. The season hung in the balance heading into this game, as the Cardinals had dropped three straight, including their Big East opener to rival Cincinnati. After watching cornerback Anthony Conner go down with a broken neck, Louisville played with an added sense of urgency and that carried over for the rest of the season. This win launched the comeback and helped the Cardinals close with wins in five of their final six games.
What's next: Strong has led this team to back-to-back bowl games, as Louisville will play NC State in the Belk Bowl. Speculation about another head coaching job has surrounded strong, so that is one thing that will have to be resolved. With so many young players returning next season, this team has to be the early choice to be picked as the favorite in 2012. Strong is going to have to manage that, since his team won't be considered underdogs any longer.