Last year’s football season left all Louisville fans with a smile on their face, anxiety over possible early departures, but most importantly, dreams about the future.
The emergence of Lamar Jackson, a proven dominant (yet young) defense, and an arsenal of weapons led the Cardinals to a successful 8-5 season with a Music City Bowl victory over Texas A&M. However, the season did not start as optimistically as it ended. An 0-3 start shocked everyone within the Louisville football program, fans included. In hindsight, those 3 games could have, and arguably should have been won. Ultimately, inexperienced but big mistakes led to the Cardinal’s first 0-3 start since 1984.
We as fans have been spoiled by the success of the football program (with the exception of a few years we all wish we could forget). Thoughts of not going to a bowl a game were in everyone’s mind (you’re lying if you deny that). It was logical to think that a young team might not have responded to that kind of a start, or the coaching staff might have decided to teach the young players for the long term rather than go after short term success. Then, it happened.
With each game that passed, big mistakes were lowered, adjustments were made, and improvements were obvious. The defense stiffened and shut down opposing offenses during the final stretch of the season and the offense really hit its stride and moved the ball with ease. A big comeback win in Lexington after a terrible first half, and the victory over the Aggies in the Music City Bowl left all Cardinal fans on the edge of their seats for the upcoming season.
The way the team closed out the season left many fans and coaches wondering if some players would enter the NFL draft early. Thankfully, that was not the case, instead the Cardinals return 18 of the 22 starters from offense and defense, the only losses being seniors. That’s one of the reasons some analysts have this year’s team pegged as a dark horse to go to the College Football Playoff. While most people around the nation may think that’s a lofty expectation, it wouldn’t surprise the Louisville faithful.
I have been asking many fans and my friends here at the CardinalSportsZone what about this team most validates these expectations. Some said Lamar Jackson being a potential Heisman candidate and returning nearly all his weapons at the skill positions. A few fans credited Bobby Petrino’s new system in place that showed a lot of improvement and promise last year. However, the most popular answer was the defense. Last year’s defense was nothing short of phenomenal. Although, the departures of James Burgess and Sheldon Rankins are deeply felt. The returns of Josh Harvey-Clemons, Keith Kelsey, and Devonte Fields will produce another rugged defense. That defense is what many people believe will be the reason the Cardinals meet these expectations.
It’s never a bad thing to have too many things to be excited about, right? The offense is obviously the flashy choice. With all his weapons returning (James Quick, Jamari Staples, Jaquay Savage, Cole Hikutini, and many others), as a much improved passer, Lamar will be at the helm of what should be a high-powered passing game, along with Brandon Radcliff and Jeremy Smith returning in the backfield to provide a reliable balance. The offense will be exciting, but the defense will be this team’s anchor.
With such high expectations, this offseason wait has felt much longer than normal. Less than 2 months until the Cardinals take the field to prove the hype and go after the goals we all know they are capable of achieving. For now, all we have are memories of last season and dreams of the next.