Our series continues today with Louisville, the preseason Big East favorite and one of the conference's three reigning champs.
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Three reasons why Louisville will win the Big East
1. Teddy Bridgewater: The unanimous Big East rookie of the year enters 2012 on the watch list for the Davey O'Brien award, looking to build off his breakout 2011 campaign. Another season-ending knee injury to Michaelee Harris hurts, but Bridgewater still returns two of his top targets in Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker.
2. Experienced defense: Nine starters are back from a defense that was dominant against the run. Two first-team All-Big East players are in the secondary in safety Hakeem Smith and cornerback Adrian Bushell, and the Cardinals' pass defense should be among the best in the conference this year as well.
3. Charlie Strong: The third-year head coach is making a lot of athletic directors sorry they missed out on hiring him earlier, as he has taken the Cardinals to back-t0-back 7-6 seasons and a share of one conference title already. With recruiting on the rise and the foundation for his program set entering Year 3, it is easy to imagine him taking the school to greater heights.
Three reasons why Louisville won't win the Big East
1. But can the team handle expectations?: As Strong said during a speech this week, the team has just seven titles in its 94-year history. Entering 2012 as the conference front-runner is foreign to this team, which was picked last and seventh, respectively, in each of Strong's first two years. The target is now on Louisville's back, and it can no longer play the role of underdog.
2. No clear answer in backfield: There doesn't appear to be a clear No. 1 running back, and the team will have to split carries among four different guys. Strong said entering fall camp that he would like an every-down back to emerge from the group of Dominique Brown, Corvin Lamb, Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright.
3. Depth up front: Tackle Roy Philon leads a defensive line that returns most of its regular starters from a year ago, but injuries plagued the unit throughout 2011, as it had the same starting lineup in just three straight games. They are young on the bench, too.