NCF Nation: Bobby Petrino

Louisville opens its first season in the ACC tonight, but there is nothing unfamiliar about the setting or the opponent.

The Cards beat Miami the last time they played, nine months ago in the Russell Athletic Bowl in December. "Beat" might not be a strong enough word to describe what happened in Orlando, Florida. Louisville embarrassed Miami, a school in a bigger conference with more football tradition and much more at stake, too.

Nobody on either side has quite forgotten the 36-9 final. Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin still has a “U” logo hanging in his room with a big red X through it. Miami players, meanwhile, talk about getting revenge, about feeling “disrespected” in the bowl game. Animosity between the two already is jacked up, and they haven't even played a league game yet.

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AP Photo/John RaouxStacy Coley and Miami don't have to wait to exact some revenge on Louisville after their Russell Athletic Bowl defeat last December.
“Our practices have been more electric,” Mauldin said. “Everybody just wants to beat Miami.”

It's easy to see why the ACC selected this as its prime-time Labor Day showdown. The subplots are so juicy, it's hard to pick the juiciest one. Is it the bitterness between the sides, exacerbated by all the Florida players on the Louisville roster who want to show Miami what it’s missing? Is it the Miami disrespect card, exacerbated when former quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did the throat-slash gesture late in the bowl game last year?

Is it Bobby Petrino making his return to the Louisville sideline? Is it Miami starting true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya? Is it Miami running back Duke Johnson finally returning to the field after missing the end of last season with a broken ankle? Is it Louisville’s official ACC debut?

The matchups might be completely different, the Louisville coaching staff and schemes might be totally different, but that does not change just how much both teams look back on what happened in December.

Louisville wants a repeat. Miami wants revenge.

“The guys just want to come back and do it again,” Mauldin said. “It was a great feeling, and they just want to feel like that again. The preparation leading up to it has been good. I feel like we’re going to have a lot of fun on Monday night.”

Miami coach Al Golden tried to downplay his team’s emotions, saying: “Louisville played really well. They had an exceptional team. They had a team that -- they only lost a couple times in two years, so that was a great team, played really well. But no, in terms of our program and their program, this is a different team for both, and clearly we have to take care of our business, not worry about anybody else's.”

Petrino, who was not even on the sidelines for the Louisville win last season, had a different view. He said his players do have extra motivation going into this game, a rare rematch that pits the same teams in a bowl and season opener.

“I think that's human,” Petrino said. “Got a lot of guys from that same area that played against a lot of players on their team in high school, have known each other for a long time. It's going to be real important for us to focus on the process, focus on our performance one play at a time.”

It sounds like a cliché, but Mauldin said the team has worked on trying not to get too emotional leading up to kickoff because “when you get too riled up, you can forget what you learn, and you don’t want to get complacent.”

The Louisville defense will have a far different assignment in this game. Priority No. 1 is stopping Johnson, who has the ability to change the game with one play. Then, the Cards can focus on rattling Kaaya, a wild card in the matchup. Louisville has no tape to study on him, so it has just been focusing on the offensive scheme. The defense will have to adjust on the fly to what Kaaya brings to the table.

Miami also faces unknowns on the Louisville offense. Will Gardner replaces Bridgewater, and leading receiver DeVante Parker is out. Petrino runs a vastly different scheme than former coach Charlie Strong did in the bowl game. Coaching adjustments are always important, maybe more so in openers, when there are so many unknowns.

Still, there is enough from both sides to go on. Most especially, all that emotion.
Miami and Louisville already are quite familiar with each other, but that familiarity will probably mean nothing heading into their opener on Labor Day.

Already, their matchup has quite a different feel than it did just one week ago after two major news stories broke this past weekend. Louisville receiver DeVante Parker will have surgery on his foot and is out six to eight weeks; Miami, meanwhile, named true freshman Brad Kaaya its starting quarterback.

That begs the question -- how will both offenses be impacted?

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesLouisville and Miami meet in the season opener, a rematch of the Russell Athletic Bowl, and Hurricanes tailback Duke Johnson will be among the many new faces who didn't play in the December game.
We already knew both units would look far different than the groups we saw the last time they played, a 36-9 Louisville romp in the Russell Athletic Bowl in December. Louisville lost star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who torched the Canes for 447 yards passing. Miami gained a healthy Duke Johnson, who missed the bowl game with an ankle injury.

Johnson brings a new dynamic to the matchup at running back. But so does new Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, who runs a completely different offense than the one Miami could not stop last season. Parker was set to be the focal point of that offense, a 6-foot-3, 211-pound freak of an athlete with the capability of having a 1,500-yard season.

Without him, Louisville does have other options. The Cards are fortunate to have one of the deeper receiver groups in the ACC. Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz, and Michaelee Harris all return. Tennessee transfer Matt Milton and sophomore James Quick are players to watch. So is tight end Gerald Christian, expected to have a bigger role in the offense.

But with a new starting quarterback in Will Gardner, there is little doubt Parker would have been a security blanket of sorts and the immediate go-to player among the receivers. The other players are solid, but Parker is the one with first-round NFL draft potential thanks to his size and speed (he runs a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash).

Miami gets the benefit of having a stronger Johnson back on the field. His impact on this team is undeniable. With him, Miami was ranked No. 7 in the nation last year. Without him, the Canes dropped four of their final six games. In the Russell Athletic Bowl, Johnson stood on the sideline and watched Miami running backs muster 73 total yards on the ground.

It is obviously huge that he is back. But with a true freshman under center, one has to assume the Cards' defense will be geared toward stopping Johnson and making Kaaya beat them. Kaaya has the skill players around him to help, but the pressure will rest squarely on him to make the right reads and the right decisions in the face of all the pressure.

How will he handle that? Maybe even bigger -- how will he handle the spotlight, making his first start on the road in front of a nationally televised audience? Miami coaches have praised Kaaya for his unflappable demeanor, and say they have run him through pressure situations in practice.

But no practice simulation can prepare a freshman for the bright lights that await, especially as the Miami quarterback. Though Louisville lost some of its best players on defense and will be employing a new scheme, the Cards do return Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks), linebacker James Burgess (72 tackles) and top cover corner Charles Gaines to make life difficult for Kaaya.

It is plain to see the differences are everywhere. Kaaya and Parker just add to that theme, making this matchup perhaps the most difficult to predict heading into Week 1.
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

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

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Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsDeVante Parker is a big-time NFL prospect and is expected to have a monster season in Bobby Petrino's offense.
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
Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong recruited some ridiculously speedy football players, but his offensive and defensive schemes were not built on playing fast.

Strong wanted power football on both sides of the ball. So his players trained that way in the weight room. Players bulked up. They were never tested in the 40-yard dash, but rather on the mile. That way, they would have the physical power they would need to win one-on-one matchups, and the endurance they would need to outlast their opponents in the fourth quarter.

Philosophies have shifted now that Bobby Petrino has taken over the program. He wants to play fast, so the message in the weight room has been transformed. Under new strength and conditioning coach Joe Miday, the emphasis has focused on speed and power. Players are now tested on 110-yard sprints and 40-yard sprints. Linebackers train with skill position players to help improve their speed and quickness. Tempo is faster in the weight room, too, that way they can practice as fast as they will play once the games begin.

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Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY SportsDeVante Parker recently clocked 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the fastest time he has ever posted.
There have been immediate results in just a few short months. Receiver DeVante Parker, already blessed with terrific size and strength, clocked 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- the fastest time he has ever posted. The number surprised many observers, perhaps because Parker was never truly unleashed in the run-first offense Strong employed. Parker said his time is a direct result of the new strength staff.

"Oh yeah, I am a lot faster now than I used to be," Parker said. In detailing the reasons, he said, "The new staff likes to work on what you need to work on so you can improve, and it will show during the game. Last year, it was more on your body than it is now. Now, they want you to be fast, too. Last year, they just wanted us to be bulky -- we didn't really work on speed. But now we do and it's a big advantage for us."

One of the biggest reasons Louisville is now emphasizing the shorter distances as opposed to the mile is because players require a burst of speed to make plays. The average play lasts roughly 8 seconds. So if a player can maximize his speed in that window, he will have an advantage over his opponent and remain fresh into the fourth quarter. Louisville already has an edge of sorts here because Strong brought in so many fast players, from running back Corvin Lamb to cornerback Charles Gaines. Ten players posted 40-yard times of 4.46 or better in March.

Playing fast also requires a slimmed-down and toned-up player.

Left tackle Jamon Brown is the perfect example. Strong wanted him to bulk up, and he reached nearly 350 pounds last season. But Petrino ordered Brown to lose weight to become quicker on his feet. This is especially important for offensive linemen, who will be asked to go 80 or more plays per game (with about 15-20 seconds between snaps). By contrast, Louisville averaged 69 plays per game last season and ranked No. 2 in the nation in time of possession.

Brown is now down to 325 pounds, and has five more pounds to lose. Guard John Miller also is down nearly 15 pounds to 311. Miday has been working for years on emphasizing speed, first at up-tempo Marshall and then with Petrino last season at Western Kentucky. He has gotten results at both stops. Given the players already in place at Louisville, there is no doubt we will see one of the fastest teams in the ACC in 2014.

With the potential for more.

"I think I can hit 4.2," Parker says of his 40-time. "I just want to keep working on my legs so I can get faster."

Video: Petrino on return to Louisville

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
11:18
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Bobby Petrino talks about his return to the Louisville Cardinals after eight years and the challenges of replacing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Video: ACC media days wrap up

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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videoAndrea Adelson and Jared Shanker wrap up ACC media days, discussing Florida State Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher's comments on the Big 12, Bobby Petrino and the Miami Hurricanes as preseason Coastal favorites.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Bobby Petrino shared his one-hour slot in the ACC media day rotation with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, a lineup of heavy hitters set up at three different tables across a rather large ballroom.

Before Petrino even entered, reporters lined up three deep in chairs anticipating his comments. What does it say, then, that his session had the largest turnout -- trumping two of the most high-profile coaches in the league?

It says Petrino still carries big-time weight. But it also says there is a curiosity about him that simply has not faded. Petrino has a well-documented past, and that well-documented past has a way of coming up every time he enters a room.

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AP Photo/Chuck Burton"I need to prove to myself and everybody else on a daily basis that this is the right decision," Bobby Petrino said of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich bringing him back.
There is no way for him to outrun it, so he answers by rote. This time around, it took 10 minutes for Petrino to be asked about what he has to say to fans of his new league who may not know a whole lot about him, other than the headlines they have read.

"I'm going to approach the game to try to do the best I can in helping young men on and off the field," Petrino responded. "One of the key things you do as a football coach is you teach players how to excel and how to get self-confidence. One of the things I'm going to work hard on is coaching the person as much as the player.

"The experiences I've had, that I can help young men with the obstacles they're going to be presented with off the field and the situations that are going to come up and help them and give them second chances."

Had he not tried to mold the person during his first stint at Louisville?

"It's something I wonder about, whether I paid that much attention to it but certainly now I understand that's a part of what I need to do," Petrino said.

Petrino says he has changed. So does athletic director Tom Jurich, who took an enormous risk when he rehired him. Petrino is no fool. He understands this, saying, "I need to prove to myself and everybody else on a daily basis that this is the right decision."

And then, that was it.

Back to football.

The questions lasted less than 5 minutes out of a full hour, but they were proof again that they have not yet gone away. They do come less frequently, but they come nonetheless. Because when people make mistakes, the natural inclination is to ask just how much they have learned. How much they have changed.

Petrino does deserve credit for the way he has handled himself since he came back to Louisville in January. He has answered every question thrown at him -- the ugly ones, too. He has made a good effort to show he has changed, offering handshakes and smiles to folks who come up to greet him.

He has shown his desire to give back to Louisville, a place he calls his home, establishing the Petrino Family Foundation with donations already totaling more than $1 million.

And he has shared personal anecdotes about his wife and his children. He proudly told reporters Monday that he caddies for his daughter Katie, who plays on the Louisville golf team. Petrino gave a bit of advice to future caddies, drawing laughs.

"Show up, keep up, shut up," he said.

Then it was on to Louisville football -- its place in the league, life without Teddy Bridgewater, recruiting and scheduling. Someone asked whether he was surprised that he did not field more questions about his past.

Petrino said no. Most of his day, from radio to television to print interviews, was spent answering football questions.

Indeed, in his ideal world, Petrino will spend the rest of his career at Louisville answering only football questions.
The day Bobby Petrino turned his first Louisville players into film-study believers unfolded exactly the way he said it would.

It was Nov. 27, 2004, Louisville against cross-state rival Cincinnati.

Louisville got the ball first, at the 20. All week, Petrino told his offensive players that if the defensive end lined up on the opening play in the 9-technique, the Cards would score a touchdown.

Sure enough, the Cincinnati end was lined up exactly the way Petrino predicted. Brian Brohm checked to the right play.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesBobby Petrino's emphasis on film study has helped his players to succeed in the NFL.
Eric Shelton scored an 80-yard touchdown. Louisville won 70-7.

"I remember that play like it was yesterday," recalled Breno Giacomini, an offensive lineman on that squad. "It was unbelievable. He proved himself a lot to us before, but that day in my mind showed he knows exactly what he’s talking about. It all goes back to the film work he put in. That has made me a better player. It took me a little longer to realize but the film work that I put in has really helped my career."

Giacomini speaks from experience. As he shared anecdotes about Petrino over the phone, he was on his way to pick up the Super Bowl ring he won last season with Seattle.

Petrino has his share of critics, but it is hard to knock his ability to develop NFL-caliber players. He has coached 37 NFL draft picks; 29 have been offensive players. And one of the biggest keys to their collective success has been meticulous preparation that begins in the film room, something the current Louisville players have already begun to learn.

“If you can learn to break down film half as good as Coach Petrino can, it gives you an edge in the NFL,” said former Louisville center Eric Wood, going into his sixth season with Buffalo.

Ryan Mallett says the first thing Petrino taught him at Arkansas was defense, hugely beneficial now that he is with the New England Patriots.

“He acts like you don't know anything,” Mallett said. “What your coach might have told you in high school, he might want it done differently. Learning that way definitely helped me because in the NFL, you watch a lot of film throughout the day. So you know what to look for.

“The smaller details or finer details some guys might overlook, that helps you understand the game better, like who’s covering the running back if the running back is lined up at the receiver position. Little things like that, indicators before the ball is snapped so you know what will happen.”

Giacomini even notices the difference in NFL meeting rooms between those who have learned how to break down film under Petrino, and those who have not. He said Alvin Bailey, who played for Petrino at Arkansas and then with Giacomini in Seattle, got the playbook down just a little bit faster.

Beyond breaking down film, Petrino also expects perfection. When mistakes are made, screaming ensues. As Wood says, “You have your rough days playing for Coach Petrino because he’s really demanding, but ultimately that’s how you’re going to get the most out of 18 to 22 year olds.”

Harry Douglas, who ranks second on the Louisville career yards receiving list, credits that type of coaching style with helping him get drafted.

“The times he doesn’t holler at you and demand excellence, that’s when you need to be worried,” Douglas said. “He knows what each player he recruits is capable of and all he does is push you to be the best you can be. I always want a coach like that. Coaches like that are the best because they don’t care who you are, what star you are, how many catches you have, they’re going to push you. The hay is never going to be in the barn with them.”

Douglas was a Petrino believer from the start. A scrawny 130 pounds out of high school, Petrino pushed Douglas to transform himself, and he became an All-Big East receiver. When Petrino joined the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, he held Douglas up as an example of an undersized player who worked hard to become elite.

So when the Falcons ended up drafting Douglas in 2008, every receiver on the team knew exactly who was walking in the door.

“All the receivers said, ‘It’s time to see what he’s got,” said Douglas, coming off his best NFL season with 85 catches for 1,067 yards and two touchdowns. “Even now today, Roddy (White) and Julio (Jones) and people in Atlanta know I practice the same way I did in college. My practice habits have not changed.”

Petrino has not changed the way he runs practice or prepares his players with film study, though people who know him say he has changed away from the field. He had to, given the circumstances. He arrived at Louisville again with some extra baggage, but those who have played for Petrino are happy he is back.

"Initially when I heard he was coming back, I’d be lying if I didn’t wonder what people would think about rehiring him, a guy who left us and went through what he went through at Arkansas," Wood said. "But I believe in second chances. This is place he wanted to be, and I couldn’t be more excited. I got over those feelings in 10 seconds when I envisioned all he success U of L would have."
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and his staff have the SEC pedigree. Now they are filling the roster with much of the same.

The Cardinals could potentially add a fourth SEC transfer to the mix. Safety Tray Matthews was dismissed from Georgia on Tuesday, then tweeted he would transfer to either Auburn or Louisville. If he chooses the Cards, he would join three former SEC players -- his old Georgia teammates Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons, and former Texas A&M receiver JaQuay Williams.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
AP Photo/John BazemoreTray Matthews, shown celebrating after an interception last September, tweeted that he's considering a transfer to Louisville after he was dismissed from the Bulldogs.
None of these moves comes as a huge surprise. All three Georgia players played for current Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. The decision to hire Grantham away from the Bulldogs clearly has paid off in more ways than one. His presence has helped bring Wiggins and Harvey-Clemons to the Louisville defensive backfield, an area with a major lack of depth.

Should Matthews enter the fold, Louisville would be in line to start nearly the same defensive backfield in 2015 that Georgia featured when all three players were healthy this past season.

That would be absolutely huge for a Louisville team making the transition into the ACC. Petrino has made foolish mistakes in his past, but he is not a fool when it comes to understanding what it takes to win -- especially on his side of the division.

Atlantic Division front-runners Florida State and Clemson are the only two ACC schools consistently recruiting at an SEC level on a consistent basis. To compete with them, Louisville must do the same. Accepting these transfers is one way to start closing the talent gap that currently exists between the programs. Williams, Wiggins, Harvey-Clemons and Matthews were all four-star recruits out of high school. The three Georgia players were ranked in the ESPN 300 and were dubbed the Bulldogs' defensive backfield of the future.

To understand how much catching up Louisville has to do, consider this: During the last five years, Louisville signed a combined 24 four-star players. Seven were ranked in the ESPN 300. Those are great numbers for the old Big East/American. But in the same span, Florida State signed 70 four-star and five-star players, and 55 were ranked in the ESPN 300. Clemson signed 55 four-star or five-star players, and 34 were ranked on the ESPN 300. It's easy to see why these two schools have separated from the rest.

As successful as Louisville was in its final years in the Big East/American, playing in a tougher conference means you need better players. Looking for transfers -- even transfers with baggage -- is one way to do that.

There are some risks involved. Harvey-Clemons and Matthews were both dismissed from Georgia. Though no specific details were given about Matthews' departure, Harvey-Clemons served multiple suspensions for team rules violations, including the 2013 Capital One Bowl.

Petrino was criticized during his first go-around with Louisville for bringing in players with discipline problems. Athletic director Tom Jurich told one reporter in 2008 that the Cardinals dismissed 21 players after Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons because of disciplinary issues.

So the track record is not sterling. But Petrino and Jurich have both vowed things would be different in the program this time. Given where Louisville stands as it heads into the ACC, Petrino has to be willing to take a few risks. At the same time, he also has to show he means business with the players who have been in trouble in the past. Second chances are one thing, but there needs to be a level of discipline in the program that was not there the first time Petrino was in charge.

None of the incoming players are eligible until 2015, when Petrino will have a much better idea of where his team stands in the ACC. If he can maximize their potential and keep them out of trouble, Louisville will be well on its way.
Russell A. Griffin in Sea Girt, N.J., sent this note into the mailbag: Hi, Andrea. In 2012, when FSU lost so many to the NFL draft, sports analysts we're saying that 2013 would be the year FSU would step back a bit and that 2014 would be its year. Clemson was the team to beat in 2013. I realize no one would have thought about how good Jameis [Winston] was going to be. The analysts said 2014 would be FSU's year to step up. With all that in mind, well, it’s 2014. If last year was the year to step back, imagine what this year should be like. Granted, 2014 is going to be tougher since the schedule is tougher. I know, it is always harder to repeat. I will be at the games against Oklahoma State and later at Louisville. Go Noles.

Griffin brings up a terrific point. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but Florida State blew the doors off that notion. Are the Seminoles going to go unbeaten again? ACC reporter Andrea Adelson and Florida State reporter Jared Shanker debate the odds.

AA gives Florida State a 25 percent chance of going undefeated.

SportsNation

What are the chances Florida State goes unbeaten this year?

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    17%
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    21%
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    22%
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    28%
  •  
    12%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,027)

Florida State is good enough to go undefeated. But being good enough to win all your games and actually winning all your games are two different matters entirely (see: Crimson Tide, Alabama). There are a few reasons why I think the Seminoles won’t run the table.

First, strength of schedule. Florida State trades in Nevada and Idaho (combined 5-19 last season) for Oklahoma State and Notre Dame (combined 19-7 a year ago). Not to mention trading Atlantic Division teams Maryland (7-6) for Louisville (12-1). Not only are the teams better, but there will be a cumulative effect of playing much tougher competition.

With the exception of the BC game, Florida State never had reason to play its starters for a full game during the regular season last fall. But that is not going to be the case in 2014. More playing time means more wear and tear on the starters, and more wear and tear on the starters means you need to rely on your backups to play many more meaningful minutes.

This leads to my second point. Florida State lacks depth on its offensive and defensive lines, and that could be a problem. The biggest concern should rest with the defensive front, where the Seminoles lost a ton of talent early to the NFL and was therefore low on players in the spring. Depth is vital, most especially late in games, when the big guys up front start to get gassed. What happens against high-tempo teams such as Oklahoma State and Louisville if the depth is lacking and the game is on the line?

Finally, what will Winston do for an encore with the spotlight shining even brighter than last season? Florida State needs a much more mature, much more focused Winston in 2014. He doesn’t have a Kelvin Benjamin to bail him out in the end zone. He has no 1,000-yard back returning. There are terrific players around him, and Winston has to learn how to trust them all from the outset while the media dissects every move he makes.

We saw what a focused Winston can do under that glare of the end of the BCS national championship game. But we also saw what do-it-all-myself Winston can do under that glare in the first three quarters of that game, too.

I still believe Florida State has as good a shot as any team in America to make the College Football Playoff. I just don’t think the Seminoles make it there unscathed.

Jared Shanker gives Florida State a 35 percent chance of going undefeated.

Florida State is looking to become the first team in college football history to go 15-0 and to win the inaugural College Football Playoff. The good news for the Seminoles is, unlike in previous seasons, going undefeated is not required to win the 2014 national championship.

The Noles, as a potentially unanimous preseason No. 1, will have the most leeway when it comes to suffering a loss and still being in the discussion for one of the four playoff seeds. Looking at the 2014 schedule, its roster and trying to account for the multitude of unknowns every season presents, it is hard to see Florida State going through another season undefeated.

As AA pointed out first, the schedule is tougher this fall. While Oklahoma State is rebuilding, coach Mike Gundy has that program in good enough shape that an upset of the defending champions in Week 1 would not be a total shock. The Fighting Irish are on the schedule, and whether it is Everett Golson or Malik Zaire taking snaps, both look capable of leading an offense and the Irish into a playoff berth. Bobby Petrino is tearing Louisville down and rebuilding it in his own image, but any Thursday night road game presents unique challenges.

Injuries are also the great unknown for every team, and Florida State remained relatively healthy throughout the 2013 season. Winston avoided significant injury last season, and with arguably the country’s best starting offensive line in front of him, he again could go the entire season without any major bumps. However, the nature of the position often leaves quarterbacks vulnerable, and there is no telling how FSU would fare if it is without Winston for any amount of time.

Even a healthy Winston could see a decline in production this fall with new faces throughout his receiver corps. Rashad Greene returns, but no longer is Benjamin or Kenny Shaw around to redirect double teams. The revamped unit showed some flashes during the spring game, but there is reason to worry about whether the receivers will step up in the fall. Several talented freshmen enter the fold this summer, and while freshmen across the country are making earlier impacts than ever before, it is still premature to expect Ermon Lane, Ja’Von Harrison or Travis Rudolph to replicate Benjamin’s or Shaw’s numbers immediately.

What Florida State does have is as much talent as just about any team in the country. Only Alabama has recruited better the past few years, and the Noles are loaded with talent from top to bottom. However, a decent portion of that talent is inexperienced. Certainly those new faces could exceed their predecessors' production, but it will not happen overnight. Defensively, breaking in coordinator Charles Kelly could add to the early-season learning curve as that side of the ball adjusts to a handful of new starters and is without vocal leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith.

The odds of going undefeated being at 35 percent are still the highest in the country potentially, but that is not where I would put my money if I was a betting man. I’m much more inclined to believe Florida State enters the playoff as a one-loss team.


Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn't want to do it.

When he met with former quarterback Chad Kelly on the Monday following Clemson's spring game, Swinney said his original plan was to suspend Kelly -- not dismiss him from the team entirely -- but the meeting "just didn’t go well."

"There’s just certain things you can’t tolerate, and that’s just the bottom line," Swinney said. "It wasn’t a good meeting. It was a simple decision that was made. He moved on and we moved on."

So did more than half the ACC this spring, to a new era of quarterbacks.

Cole Stoudt’s tenure began swiftly at Clemson, ending what was one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the ACC and capping a spring that was filled with quarterback news throughout the conference.

[+] EnlargeKevin Olsen
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKevin Olsen became Miami's first-string quarterback when Ryan Williams tore his ACL.
At Miami, quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL, leaving Kevin Olsen the undisputed starter heading into summer camp.

At Duke, Brandon Connette announced his decision to transfer to the West Coast, leaving Anthony Boone in an unfamiliar role of being the lone leader.

Boston College named Florida transfer Tyler Murphy its starter, Syracuse reaffirmed Terrel Hunt as its starter, Justin Thomas is the main man at Georgia Tech, Will Gardner took the lead at Louisville and Chad Voytik became the obvious choice at Pitt.

What began as a position up for grabs in the ACC is largely no longer a mystery, as many schools determined their starting quarterback this spring, or at least had separation occur -- if not by performance, then by default. While most of the quarterbacks throughout the league are still unproven (six schools don’t have any starting experience returning to the position, and four schools brought in transfers to help), many enter summer camp at least sure of where they stand on the depth chart.

"I had my meeting with the coaches before all that happened, and I felt comfortable with where I was," said Stoudt, who will make his first career start in the season opener at Georgia. "They said I was going to be the guy and everything. I know there were some things that happened, but I'm happy with the situation, and I'm happy I'm the guy going into fall camp, so it's exciting."

Nine of the 14 schools in the ACC will introduce a first-year starting quarterback this fall. Of the 11 teams that entered spring with quarterback competitions, eight found answers -- or at least had an obvious front-runner emerge.

At Miami, Williams had distanced himself from Olsen through his decision-making and accuracy, but the torn ACL meant an instant promotion for Olsen. Still, coach Al Golden said his confidence in the position remains high.

"I think we're not going to change what we do," Golden said. "We need to do a really good job of establishing the running game, keeping it simple, doing what we do best. Getting into more third-and-manageables. We were in way too many third-and-longs last year to possess the ball and convert. Clearly the two young men we have here on campus right now can do it. The two coming in will also have an opportunity to compete."

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsVirginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is still looking for a starting quarterback to emerge.
The only three schools that didn’t come close to naming a starter this spring were Virginia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest. It's not a stretch to say that the Hokies' hopes of returning to the ACC title game hinge on having a dependable quarterback emerge, and as one of the premier programs in the Coastal Division, it will continue to be one of the most-watched storylines of the summer. Those within the program have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and true freshman Chris Durkin. The staff has made it perfectly clear they won’t name a starter until those two are added to the competition this summer.

"The big question really is the quarterback," coach Frank Beamer said. "I think Mark Leal, Brenden Motley and Andrew Ford all have had their moments. Some of it's good; some of it's not as good as you like. I think Michael Brewer coming in, Chris Durkin coming in, will enter into the competition there. We'll see how that ends up. But that's certainly the critical question for our football team right now."

The critical question for the rest of the conference becomes how these new starters will perform when it counts. Now that most of them have earned their starting jobs, there's pressure to keep them.

"I've said that if we were to play tomorrow, [Will Gardner] would run out there as our starter," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "… There will certainly be competition for it in the fall. He’ll have a chance to go out each day and prove that he's either the better quarterback, or someone passes him by."

More often than not, the ACC's new quarterbacks were able to prove it this spring.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It is hard to miss the giant poster of Teddy Bridgewater hanging in the lobby of the Louisville football complex, celebrating the Cardinals’ momentous win over Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl two years ago.

Bridgewater's rise was concurrent to the football program’s latest ascent to national prominence, but the truth is he was the most notable player on a defensive-minded football team led by a defensive-minded coach who stressed a physical, ball-control style of football that did not always showcase its talented quarterback.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
AP Photo/Garry JonesBobby Petrino is stepping up the tempo in practice in his second stint at Louisville.
Nobody will ever say the same about offensive guru Bobby Petrino, who has single-handedly made everything different this spring in his second stint as Louisville's head coach. His philosophy is different. Practices are different. Schemes are different. Strength and conditioning is different. Even conference affiliation is soon to be different.

Petrino says he is different, too, eight years after he left the Cardinals for the NFL. A well-publicized scandal at Arkansas three years ago -- a scandal many thought could end up ruining him -- forced him to get his priorities in order.

He now has his second chance to do right after Tom Jurich gave him a lifeline in January following Charlie Strong’s departure for Texas. Petrino's reputation, however, remains in limbo, putting more pressure on his football acumen. When asked to note how he and the program differ from when he was hired the first time in 2003, Petrino says, “I don’t look at the differences a whole lot. I’m having a great time.”

While Petrino the man needs to be different, Louisville is banking on the same Petrino who initially took Louisville to the heights Strong recently matched. To do that, Petrino is coaching the way he has always coached. Practices are now run at a much faster tempo than under Strong. Petrino is constantly in his players' faces, yelling at them to get it right. All that was quite an adjustment initially. “Hustle!” and “Go faster!” are two key phrases that have returned to the Louisville lexicon.

“At first, everybody was looking around like, ‘What’s going on?’ but for the most part, everybody’s taken it in stride,” said defensive end Sheldon Rankins. “We have gone along with everything he’s saying, and been pretty positive about it because at the end of the day, we’re all a team. We’re all here together and we have to make it work.”

The changes have been especially dramatic on offense, and most especially with the quarterbacks. Bridgewater might have been the centerpiece in Louisville the last three years, but he is gone, and that leaves quite a conundrum. Petrino places much heavier demands on quarterbacks; they have more checks to make, more complicated schemes to learn and different timing routes to perfect with their receivers, all while practicing at a breakneck pace.

No passer on the current roster has started a college game. Will Gardner, who was the backup last year, has taken the lead in the quarterback competition, but the offense has much to improve on before it functions the way Petrino wants it to function. One practice last week lasted 2½ hours, and several practice periods were repeated until the players got everything right.

“They think they’re going fast right now, but we’re not even close to where we need to be,” Petrino said. “My dad gave me a bad time about it. He said, ‘That was the longest practice I’ve ever seen of yours,’ and I said, ‘It’s because we’re not going fast enough to get the reps in.’ We have a set amount of reps we have to get done, but we can’t go quick enough.”

Petrino They think they're going fast right now, but we're not even close to where we need to be.

-- Louisville coach Bobby Petrino
Part of the issue is players not being in the type of condition they need to be in to go at optimum speed. Petrino says players did make strides in winter workouts, but they need a full offseason program to meet the demands that are now required.

Up-tempo offense means the defense has to practice faster, too. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who is installing a new base 3-4 scheme that will feature players used in multiple ways, says, "The tempo thing is very good for both sides of the ball because it makes you think fast, react fast and get ready to play,” adding that the pace of practice also helps create mental toughness.

Not much has happened in the way of rebellion, either. The transition from one staff to another has been as smooth as can be expected, especially given the radical differences between style and scheme. This spring, being different never felt so good.

“Everybody’s excited,” Gardner says. “Everybody knows the history of all these coaches and how successful their teams have been, so everybody’s looking forward to what this year brings.”

There are universal challenges every first-year coach must face, whether he is a veteran or a newbie: getting to know new players, implementing schemes, setting a foundation, making sure there is buy-in across the locker room.

Then there is the challenge facing Bobby Petrino at Louisville. As he embarks on his second stint with the Cardinals, he has to go through all these getting-to-know you moments while also:

Replacing potentially the No. 1 quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft.

[+] EnlargePetrino
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIn his first season back at Louisville, coach Bobby Petrino has several questions on both sides of the ball.
Replacing his leading tackler.

Replacing his leading sack producer.

Replacing his all-conference tandem at safety.

But wait, there’s more.

Petrino also must get his players prepared for a much more grueling schedule, in a much more grueling conference home. Gone are the days when Temple, UConn and USF clogged the league schedule. The Cards open at home against Miami without much let-up to follow, as they join Florida State and Clemson in the much tougher ACC Atlantic Division.

Of all these tasks, one stands out as the most difficult.

“The biggest challenge for us is to replace a guy like Teddy Bridgewater, one of the premier players in the country,” Petrino said in a recent phone interview. “We have to go out in spring and compete and find out who it’s going to be. We have a couple guys who have the talent, just real inexperience.”

Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin are at the top of the list when spring practice opens next week. Gardner spent last season backing up Bridgewater. He played in five games, and has attempted 12 career passes. Bolin, a redshirt freshman, has never played in a college game. Incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon, a four-star recruit, joins the mix this summer.

Petrino is known as an offensive guru, but growing pains at the position are expected. Bridgewater, who guided the Cardinals to 23 wins over the past two seasons, had plenty of them when he took over as a starter during his freshman season in 2011. But he blossomed each successive year.

He was the unquestioned leader of this offense last season and an absolute extension of then offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. Bridgewater had the ability to change plays at the line based on what he saw in the defense. He rarely made the wrong call. That type of functionality in an offense takes years to develop.

On defense, Louisville loses Preston Brown (leading tackler), Marcus Smith (leader in sacks), safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor (another potential first-rounder), and three other starters. The Cards were one of the most underrated defenses in 2013, ranking No. 1 in the nation in total defense and rushing defense and No. 2 in scoring defense.

The biggest challenge for us is to replace a guy like Teddy Bridgewater, one of the premier players in the country.

New Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino on his team's transition to the ACC.
Finding replacements for Hakeem Smith and Pryor ranks among the biggest challenges on this side of the ball. One player to watch here is Gerod Holliman, a former ESPN 300 recruit who was rated as the No. 3 safety in the class of 2011. He was Louisville's highest-rated player in that class, which also included Bridgewater, Pryor and terrific returning receivers DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers.

“We do have some big and talented guys there [at safety], but they’re inexperienced,” Petrino said. “They’re going to have to be students of the game, because the most impressive things with the safeties we lost were how intelligent they were and how they ran the defense.”

One more challenge is building depth, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. Generally when teams transition to better conferences, they are at a deficit in both categories. The good news is Louisville returns four starters on the offensive line. In fact, the top three players returning with the most career starts are on the offensive line -- Jake Smith (38), John Miller (34) and Jamon Brown (27).

The defensive line, however, returns only Lorenzo Mauldin among its starters.

“Depth is huge, particularly up front to be able to rotate your defensive linemen in to stay fresh, and be ready to rush the passer in the second half when the game is on the line,” Petrino said. “One of the advantages we have coming in is we are going to be a fast team.

“We’re very athletic in the secondary and at wide receiver so when you look at the game, it’s a lot about speed and athleticism at the skill positions and the speed of your defensive front, the physicalness of your offensive front. We have starters coming back on the offensive line that are really good players, but have depth issues there that we have to solve.”

The speed and athleticism are hugely important, especially when you look at the speed and athleticism of Florida State and Clemson. Plus, Petrino and new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham have coached in the SEC, the model for speed and athleticism. Their experiences there will allow them to help their players understand what to expect.

“When you play in a major conference, you have to understand each week is a new week,” Grantham said. “Anyone on your schedule can beat you. Enjoy your win on Saturday, but come Sunday go back to work. You’ve got to maintain that consistency.”

All while dealing with a major set of challenges.
Virginia Tech quarterback Mark Leal looked around his position meeting room this winter and realized just how empty it was. True freshman Andrew Ford, who enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Brenden Motley were his only company.

None of them has ever started a game.

“This is probably the most slim it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Leal, a fifth-year senior. “We’ve always had at least five or six guys, but right now it’s only three.”

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett, Garrett Leatham
Lance King/Getty ImagesJacoby Brissett (12) is one of several transfers who could move into starting roles in the ACC in 2014.
Sounds like the entire ACC, where six schools have absolutely zero quarterbacks returning with any starting experience, and four schools brought in transfers to help.

As spring practices begin throughout the conference, the ACC kicks off its 2014 season with a complete overhaul at the quarterback position. It was only a year ago that Florida State’s Jameis Winston was an unproven rookie who had yet to start a game. Now, the 20-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the veteran of the league, as nine of the 14 schools will have a first-year starting quarterback, and the competition is open at 11 programs. Florida State, Duke and NC State are the only programs that have definitively named starters, and even NC State doesn’t know what to expect out of first-year starter and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, though, knows what’s expected.

“Go make sure it was earned,” he said, “not given.”

Count on that to be a trend in the conference this spring.

Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all starting from scratch, without any starting experience at the quarterback position. Some of the league’s most recognizable names have to be replaced, including Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas and Teddy Bridgewater. Coaches at North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia have deemed their competitions open, in spite of experienced starters returning.

“I looked at that and was kind of surprised,” said Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, the frontrunner to take over the job after Vad Lee’s decision to transfer. “It should even the playing field out a little bit, but at the same time, we all have to go through our parts.”

Not to mention spring and summer auditions.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it’s likely the competition between Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson will extend beyond this spring -- and possibly into the season.

“Going in, Cole starts out as No. 1 simply because of where we finished the season -- basically by default, if you will,” Swinney said. “He’s the senior. It’s basically his to lose going in, but it’s incredibly close. You’re talking about -- in my opinion -- three guys who are going to play in the NFL. I believe with all my heart that Cole Stoudt is going to play in the NFL. And the same thing with Chad Kelly, and the same thing with Deshaun Watson, if they stay healthy. So you’ve got three NFL players competing to be the guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people say, well, if you don’t have one quarterback then you have none. But that’s not the case here.”

It could be the case elsewhere, though.

Virginia Tech (Michael Brewer), Boston College (Tyler Murphy), Miami (Ryan Williams) and NC State (Brissett) are all hoping that transfers can give the position an immediate boost, but former Texas Tech quarterback Brewer won’t join the Hokies until this summer. While none of them has started a game at their current schools, all but Brewer have started at least three games at their previous programs.

Williams started 10 games while he was at Memphis, and he’s the leading candidate to replace Stephen Morris, but “it is wide open,” according to offensive coordinator James Coley. And Williams knows it.

"You have to earn it, you have to earn everything,” Williams told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don't want anything given to me. If it's given to me, I didn't work hard enough.”

Brissett started three games at Florida, and Murphy started six games for the Gators after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season. Murphy went 2-4 with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions before missing the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury.

Nothing is guaranteed in Chestnut Hill this spring, either, as the Eagles also have Darius Wade, a true freshman who enrolled early, and James Walsh, who will be a redshirt freshman.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
David Manning/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals are about to embark on life without Teddy Bridgewater.
“They’re all real green,” offensive coordinator Ryan Day said of the Eagles’ quarterbacks. “It’s obviously an open competition. I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing them throw and run the offense. We’ll see. All three of these guys are mobile, they can run. They’re dual threats. We’re going to use that as a weapon for us. We’re not going to totally change what we do, but we’ll add that component to it.”

All eyes will be on Louisville’s quarterback competition, as the Cardinals enter their first season in the ACC without Bridgewater, who left early to enter the NFL draft. Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin will be the top two candidates this spring, and they’ll be joined by incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon this summer.

“It’s wide open,” first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. “We’ll go through spring and see who comes out 1-2-3 and then obviously we’ll give Reggie an opportunity in the fall to compete with those guys.”

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC enters this season perceived by many to be the strongest it has ever been.

Now it just needs to find a few quarterbacks to help prove it.
Louisville's Bobby PetrinoAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesLouisville coach Bobby Petrino has plenty of experience in taking a team to a higher level.

Chances are, Bobby Petrino could stuff a three-ring binder full of notes that perfectly illustrate how to successfully maneuver around the two biggest challenges the Louisville football program faces when it moves into the ACC for the 2014 season.

Because Petrino has faced them both.

Back in his first stint as Cardinals coach, he shepherded Louisville from Conference USA to the Big East. Within two years, Louisville was in a BCS game.

Then at Arkansas, he quickly made the Hogs competitive in one of the toughest divisions in college football: the SEC West. Within three years, Arkansas went 6-2 in league play and made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

Now, of course, Louisville is hoping for the same on-field success in its new league home, playing in the ACC’s most difficult division, which features national champion Florida State and Orange Bowl champion Clemson.

Though Louisville figured to be making the transition under former coach Charlie Strong, athletic director Tom Jurich made quite a strategic hire when he gave Petrino a second chance to lead the program last month.

Jurich said in a recent interview that the biggest factor in his decision to re-hire Petrino centered on whether the coach had learned from well-documented previous mistakes and indiscretions. There was no need for Jurich to delve into on-field success.

“He knows what he’s looking at,” Jurich said.

Petrino gives Louisville even more cachet than it had a month and a half ago, when the Cardinals pounded Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl, serving notice to the rest of the ACC. Of the nine teams that have changed conferences since 2012, three had first-year head coaches. Of those three, Petrino is the only one with previous head-coaching experience on the "power five"-conference level, and his experience came in the most powerful conference in America.

Not only that, Louisville brings with it a terrific track record of recent success, posting back-to-back 11-win seasons. In fact, four of the five 11-win seasons in school history either happened in the past two years or under Petrino. That makes Louisville better positioned for immediate success than former Big East mates Pitt and Syracuse, which transitioned into the ACC last year.

But there is little doubt that Louisville faces a steep rise in level of competition, one that raises many questions headed into the first season. Louisville has three teams on its schedule projected to start the season in the Top 25. The last time it had to play that many ranked teams in one season was 2008, when the program was struggling under Steve Kragthorpe. In the past five seasons, Louisville has played just four teams ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the matchup.

[+] EnlargeTom Jurich
Timothy D. Easley/AP PhotoLouisville athletic director Tom Jurich has led the Cardinals to new heights, and now a new chapter.
Now, the Cardinals will play Florida State and Clemson every year.

“The thing they’ve got a head start on us [in] is their tradition. They have a long history,” Jurich said. “Our history is fairly recent, but our last 15 years we could go head to head with anybody in college football or any sport across the board. We want to make sure we continue to grow off that. We’ve got a good foundation in place and I don’t want to say any more than a really good foundation. We want to keep building and building.”

Building requires taking a look at the competition ahead. Petrino said in a phone interview that the work has already begun breaking down teams in the ACC, so the coaches know what types of offenses and defenses they will be facing.

“The one thing that makes it harder is the league is so competitive week in and week out so you have to have the depth and develop young men,” Petrino said. “We’ll have to have some guys that can play early. Some conferences you’re in, you have two or three games a year where if you don’t make mistakes, you should win the game because you have better players than they do.

“But this is going to be very competitive. Everyone’s going to have very good players, everyone’s going to be really well coached, and that’s what makes the challenge a lot of fun.”

Petrino has lived through those challenges, and he believes he can help prepare his players because of his own experiences. Coaching in the SEC can be a teaching tool for coaching in the ACC, especially on the road. Louisville has to play at Death Valley and Notre Dame this year.

“In the SEC it was so competitive, so you had to really understand how to get your team ready each week and be able to go on the road and handle the noise and the crowd and the hostility,” Petrino said. “We have some great road games; there will be great crowds. You have to be able to perform under the pressure with the crowd there and be able to communicate, and use your hand signals and operate when you really can’t hear anything, so you take a lot of those experiences with you.”

Petrino’s background and track record can only do so much. Louisville has to replace a potential top-five NFL draft pick in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and seven starters on defense. Given the tougher schedule, new coaching staff and new-look team, can the Cardinals realistically be a weekly Top 25 team in contention for a league title?

“We’re going to have high expectations,” Petrino said. “That’s something I believe in, is setting your expectations high. We want to get in position to compete for the conference championship.”

Spoken like a coach who has been there, done that.

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