The Louisville Cardinals hit an all-time high in 2006 when the program won the Orange Bowl over Wake Forest, led by quarterback Brian Brohm. It was an amazing season and was one William Gay penalty and a loss to Rutgers away from a trip to the BCS National Championship.
However, the Louisville football program has seen a much different result over the past two seasons under head coach Steve Kragthorpe. Coach Kragthorpe was hired when Bobby Petrino left to coach the Atlanta Falcons. Kragthorpe came from the University of Tulsa, where he took one of the most historically bad programs in college football to three bowls in four years, including a Conference USA title in 2005.
Coach Kragthorpe inherited a program on the rise, with what seemed to be a team that could repeat as conference champions and compete for a national title. The team fell way short of those expectations in 2007 and again in 2008, as Kragthorpe's two-season record now tallies 11-13.
But the real question on the table is, where does the team turn now?
The 2007 National Athletic Director of the year is feeling a lot of heat from fans to fire Coach Kragthorpe, but you can't blame the athletic director for the program's lack of competitive play. You can't blame Jurich for hiring one of the hottest coaches in college football in 2007.
Sticking by his investment the past two years, the athletic director appears to be giving Kragthorpe one last season to prove himself. Ron Cooper posted a 13-20 record before getting the boot at Louisville, so Kragthorpe better take advantage of his opportunity to still coach.
Louisville has had some big trouble with their coaches over the past few years either staying or leaving. Mike Cassity, Louisville's Orange Bowl defensive coordinator, was replaced by Ron English, longtime Michigan coordinator, who recently left the Cardinals for a head coaching position at Eastern Michigan.
This will be a crucial story point for the Cardinals in the offseason, and it will be very important for the Cardinals to bring in an experienced coordinator to turn around the Cardinals defense that gave up 63 points to Rutgers in their final game of 2008.
Jeff Brohm, who comes from a longtime Louisville football family pedigree, currently resides as the team's offensive coordinator. Although there has been some talk of him leaving for other programs, don't count on Brohm giving up on his alma mater just yet.
For Louisville to compete at the next level, Brohm is going to have to gain more success in the deep ball, which was nonexistent this season. Louisville had one of the best offenses ever recorded under Bobby Petrino, and Brohm is going to have to start all over with a brand new quarterback. It will be extremely important that they can establish the run so they can open up the play action and deep passes.
The offense should be as powerful, if not better than last season, with all key players returning except losses at the line and quarterback position. The offensive line does have some depth and should be fine as long as they can replace four-year starter Eric Wood at center.
The biggest question here is at the quarterback position. With praised recruit Matt Simms transferring after one year, there will be a quarterback battle between Tyler Wolfe, Justin Burke, and freshmen Zac Stoudt. Louisville, who has had a long line of NFL quarterbacks, should be able fill this spot, especially with help of longtime quarterback coach Steve Kragthorpe.
The top running backs and receivers all return and should make huge impacts in their passing game next season. They were very young at these positions this past year, and breakout freshman Victor Andersen will be their focus in the running game next season. Wide receivers Josh Chichester and Scott Long will be the focus in the passing game, as Josh Chichester is every quarterback's dream at 6'6".
The defense needs a lot of help this season, and it definitely doesn't help that they currently don't have a defensive coordinator on the recruiting trail. Mike Privott is currently their top recruit, choosing Louisville over Maryland and Penn State. However, the question will be this offseason whether Louisville can out-recruit the top schools while keeping current recruits from de-committing.
The defense will be helped by Mozell Axson. The senior tore his ACL before the 2008 season and should make an immediate impact on the inexperienced linebacking corps of the Cardinals.
Finally we come to the biggest question for the upcoming year in head coach Steve Kragthorpe. With two seasons under his belt, and much underachieving, this will be Kragthorpe's biggest test of his coaching career. He already has fans calling for a coaching carousel; however, for the time being his job seems to be safe.
Kragthorpe will have to bring in a top coach for the defensive coordinator position, while working with Jeff Brohm to establish the positives of the old Louisville offense. The biggest issue facing Kragthorpe is his lack of recruiting over the past two years and settling for Junior College transfers who haven't seemed to pan out at all.
While Junior College players may have more experience under their belts, Kragthorpe has settled for them without getting the top freshmen to develop over the years. It will be important for the coach to develop his players and establish a starting quarterback early in the offseason.
The future of Louisville's program looks ugly right now, but there still are a lot of positives that the team can relish in and progress with. The offense has the ability for the big play in Victor Anderson and the big-time catch in Josh Chichester.
If they can attract a top name defensive coordinator and establish a solid running game in the 2009 season, it will be hard for the Cardinals not to return to a bowl game and finish in the top four of the Big East.
Writer's Edit: According to Rivals.com, 4-star safety C.J. Peake has shown interest in rejoining the team after leaving the team due to an altercation with former defensive coordinator Ron English. English originally wanted the hard hitting Peake to play linebacker, while Peake was committed to playing Safety. Now that Ron English has moved on to Eastern Michigan, Peake wants to rejoin the team which could be a huge factor in Louisville's shaky pass defense.