The following comes from Andrea Adelson, who covers the ACC for ESPN.com. She recently posted an article wrapping up the first season in the ACC for the Cards. It may not have ended how we wanted it to, but I agree that overall, it was a successful first season in our new league.
There is only one way to describe the story of Louisville’s first season in the ACC:
Especially when you consider what the Cardinals had to deal with throughout 2014. Forget about the new staff and schemes. Louisville had to go without its best player for seven games; played three different quarterbacks; and faced perhaps the toughest schedule in school history.
Though the Cardinals fell short of a third straight 10-win season, they did get to nine victories and finished ranked in the Top 25, serving notice that they are not going to require much of a transition period in their new conference home.
Yes, the season ended in disappointment with a bowl loss to Georgia. Yes there were plenty of “what if?” moments … ‘What if DeVante Parker was healthy‘ … ‘What if there was no spike play on the goal line against Clemson’ … ‘What if Louisville did not collapse in the second half against Florida State.’ …
But nearly every team has those ‘what if?’ moments. Nearly every team has major injuries that must be overcome. What made this Louisville effort special was the way the team rebounded from adversity. There were plenty of important takeaways: a huge win at Notre Dame, a fourth-straight win against in-state rival Kentucky, and a third-place finish in the Atlantic behind top-15 teams Florida State and Clemson.
Maybe this one is the biggest of all: Among teams that transitioned into new Power 5 conferences since 2012, only Texas A&M had a better record in Year 1 in its new league home. Pretty impressive when you consider how Louisville won.
Without Parker, the Cards relied on a more aggressive defense and the outstanding play of safety Gerod Holliman, who tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions. Under Todd Grantham, Louisville grabbed 26 total interceptions, had 41 sacks, and was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the midway point of the season. Lorenzo Mauldin joined Holliman on the All-ACC coaches first team.
Parker made his way back in time for the Florida State game, a huge Thursday night showdown in Louisville. He had a huge game, but Louisville could not hold on to a 21-7 halftime lead and lost. Rather than allowing that loss to beat them again, the Cards won their final three regular-season games — including the finale against Kentucky with third-string quarterback Kyle Bolin.
Much of that is a credit to coach Bobby Petrino, who was able to keep his offense together despite missing Parker and starting quarterback Will Gardner for chunks of the season. The offense was not nearly as explosive as those Petrino has guided in the past, and that caused Petrino definite frustration.
But considering the personnel losses and new scheme, Petrino cannot consider his efforts a failure. As for Petrino himself, much was made before the season began about how he would handle his second chance with the Cards.
So far, so good at least after one season. Petrino remains as intense as he always has been, but has made more of an effort to be visible in the community and made no negative off-field headlines during the season. Perhaps that storyline can be put to rest with a full season under his belt.
Because Petrino showed once again he has a firm understanding of what Louisville is capable of on the field. He guided one smooth conference transition during his first stint. It appears as if he will do the same again.
Here is a look at how Power 5 teams fared in their new league homes, since 2012:
Texas A&M, SEC: 11-2
Missouri, SEC: 5-7
Utah, Pac-12: 5-7
Colorado, Pac-12: 1-11
TCU, Big 12: 7-6
West Virginia, Big 12: 7-6
Pitt, ACC: 6-7
Syracuse, ACC: 7-6
Louisville, ACC: 9-4
Maryland, B1G: 7-6
Rutgers, B1G: 8-5