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Louisville Cardinals season preview

8/7/2014

Previewing the 2014 season for the Louisville Cardinals:

Key returners: WR DeVante Parker, WR Eli Rogers, RB Dominique Brown, LB Lorenzo Mauldin, CB Charles Gaines

Key losses: QB Teddy Bridgewater, DE Marcus Smith, LB Preston Brown, S Calvin Pryor, S Hakeem Smith

Most important 2014 games: versus Miami, Sept. 1; at Clemson, Oct. 11; versus Florida State, Oct. 30; at Notre Dame, Nov. 22.

Projected win percentage: 56 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 8 wins

Instant impact newcomer: QB Will Gardner. Taking over for Bridgewater is no easy task, but new coach Bobby Petrino believes Gardner is up for the challenge. Gardner has prototypical size for a quarterback (6-foot-5, 226 pounds) with the arm strength to boot. Plus he'll be coached by an offensive mastermind in Petrino, whose specialty is developing quarterbacks. Even though Gardner is unproven, anticipation is high that Gardner can become an elite quarterback in this system -- starting this year.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Gardner develops at warp-like speed and the defense immediately thrives in the new 3-4 scheme, finding players to step in and fill major holes along the line and in the secondary. Louisville pulls the surprise card as a new member of the ACC and posts a winning record against the four toughest teams on the schedule (Miami, Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame) to hit the double-digit win total for a third straight season.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Gardner fails to develop as anticipated and the offense sputters along, unable to take advantage of the talent it has at the skill positions. The defense cannot find adequate replacements for Marcus Smith, Preston Brown, Hakeem Smith or Pryor and struggles against a much tougher schedule. Louisville cannot quite manage the difficulties the ACC presents and ends up barely above .500.

Best NFL prospect: Parker. ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Parker listed as the No. 3 senior receiver in the nation. Parker has the size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), power, speed (4.3-second 40-yard dash) and productivity to become a first-round draft pick. A monster season is expected in the Petrino offense, a big reason he made the preseason All-ACC team.

Biggest question mark: Safety. Because the Cardinals have little in the way of proven players or depth at the position, they already moved starting cornerback Terrell Floyd to one safety spot. The hope is that Gerod Holliman finally reaches the potential he showed in high school and starts alongside Floyd. Junior college transfer James Sample and a slew of redshirt freshmen are in the mix as well, but none of them have played a down for the Cards just yet.

They said it: "Our expectations are going to be high. I've always believed that you set expectations high. We have a group of young men that we're coaching that know how to prepare, that have played in big games and know how to win. We expect to compete for a championship. That's what we want to get done." -- Petrino