NCF Nation: Kai De La Cruz

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.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- No. 9 Louisville easily handled Ohio 49-7 on Sunday afternoon. Here is a quick look at how the Cards won:

It was over when: Teddy Bridgewater threw his first touchdown pass. At least it felt that way. Bridgewater was absolutely terrific from the moment the game started, opening 9-of-9 for 122 yards and two touchdowns. There is a reason NFL scouts filled the Louisville press box on Sunday.

Gameball goes to: Bridgewater. The Heisman hopeful threw four first-half touchdown passes, the most in a half for the Cards since Dave Ragone threw four in the first half against East Carolina in 2002. Bridgewater ended his day going 23-of-28 for 355 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in just three quarters.

Unsung heroes: Kai De La Cruz and Damian Copeland. The Cardinals have the best group of receivers in the American, and one of the most talented in the country. They are deep, too. You saw that against Ohio as each player caught two touchdown passes. Copeland ended with 98 yards, and De La Cruz registered the first 100-yard game of his career.

What it means: Louisville opened its quest to compete for a BCS championship without much trouble. While it is easy to dismiss Ohio as a team from the MAC, we also saw many FCS upsets over the weekend -- including one ranked team going down. Just about everybody expected to see a stellar performance from Bridgewater, who had both college and NFL experts drooling all over Twitter. Perhaps the best part of the game from a Cards perspective was seeing the way the defense played. This was a group that was sometimes lackadaisical last season and oftentimes did not exert its will up front. But we saw this group come on strong in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Florida, and that tenacity continued against the Bobcats. Ohio came in with a good dual-threat quarterback in Tyler Tettleton, but he was completely shut down and the Bobcats could get nothing going all day. Penalties were a problem for Louisville, but those are mistakes that can get cleaned up. When you couple a strong defense with talent at quarterback, running back and receiver, you have the makings of a very special season.