The Miami Hurricanes entered the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl seeking the program's first 10-win season since 2003.
However, Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals dominated Miami 36-9, sending the 'Canes back to South Florida with a respectable but disappointing 9-4 record. Following the thrashing, "The U" immediately turned its focus to the 2014 season.
Louisville, of course, becomes an official member of the Atlantic Coast Conference in July. And as fate would have it, a rematch between the Cardinals and the Hurricanes is scheduled for Sept. 1—or Labor Day Monday.
The 27-point defeat certainly lingers in the minds of returning Miami players, but are the Hurricanes built to redeem themselves after the embarrassing loss?
The season opener is not necessarily a revenge game, but the 'Canes will enter the contest demanding respect. Anyone who has played a sport knows firsthand the desire to defeat a team that bested his or her own in the previous meeting.
Last season, the Cardinals tied a school record with 12 wins, which matched the 2006 team led by Bobby Petrino.
Since then, however, four-year head coach Charlie Strong bolted for Texas and Bridgewater declared for the 2014 NFL draft. Petrino, who directed Louisville from 2003-2006, was rehired by the school he guided to a 41-9 record.
Sophomore Will Gardner is Bridgewater's successor, and he is in the unenviable position of replacing a future first-round pick. But as Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post notes, the young quarterback has already impressed Petrino with his leadership:
Fortunately for Louisville, the sophomore will be protected by an experienced offensive line. Jamon Brown, John Miller and Jake Smith—each of whom earned all-conference honors in 2013—started every game last year, and fellow returning starter Ryan Mack missed just one.
Plus, Gardner is flanked by running back Dominique Brown, wide receivers DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers, and tight end Gerald Christian.
Though the Cardinals lost ACC Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smith (42 tackles, 14.5 sacks) to graduation, defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin racked up 9.5 sacks last season and will continue occupying one edge.
|Key Returning Louisville Players|
|Player||Position||2014 Class||2013 Statistics|
|Dominique Brown||RB||Senior||163 CAR, 825 YDS, 8 TD|
|DeVante Parker||WR||Senior||55 REC, 855 YDS, 12 TD|
|Eli Rogers||WR||Senior||44 REC, 536 YDS, 4 TD|
|Gerald Christian||TE||Senior||28 REC, 426 YDS, 4 TD|
|Lorenzo Mauldin||DE||Senior||40 TACK (12.5 SACKS)|
|James Burgess||LB||Junior||72 TACK (9.0 TFL)|
|Terell Floyd||DB||Senior||47 TACK, 4 INT|
|Charles Gaines||DB||Junior||22 TACK, 5 INT|
So, despite the fact that Louisville must replace Bridgewater, Smith, leading receiver Damian Copeland, NFL-bound safety Calvin Pryor and top tackler Preston Brown, the Cardinals remain a veteran squad.
Although Miami no longer has Stephen Morris, Allen Hurns, Brandon Linder and Jimmy Gaines, the team has plenty of experience too.
Among others, Denzel Perryman, Shane McDermott, Olsen Pierre and Jon Feliciano highlight a solid senior core. Additionally, juniors Duke Johnson, Tracy Howard, Rayshawn Jenkins, Dallas Crawford and Ereck Flowers round out a talented group of upperclassmen.
Save for sophomore Stacy Coley, the Hurricanes' youth will be an issue—especially at quarterback, where offensive coordinator James Coley is responsible for redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen's development.
According to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Coley has seen the mental side of Olsen: "He's a competitor. He's a tough kid, so he wants to win. Deep down inside, he's a perfectionist ... when you're a person like that, that wants to win, that's always driven, he's early to meetings. You know you have someone that's going to duke it out to the end."
Olsen will continue "to duke it out," but he must remember the Duke lurking behind him. Clearly apparent after his midseason injury, Johnson is the driving force of the Miami attack, tallying 115 yards per outing in eight appearances.
The offensive line needs to progress toward dominance, as that unit will have the biggest responsibilities next season. The 'Canes anticipate that Danny Isidora and either Taylor Gadbois or Kc McDermott will minimize the impact of the departures of Linder and Seantrel Henderson.
Those blockers will be engaged with Louisville's aggressive defensive line, where the Cardinals have a proven star in Mauldin. But between Perryman, Thurston Armbrister, Howard, Jenkins, Deon Bush and Ladarius Gunter, Miami's linebacking corps and secondary hold the edge on paper.
If Louisville dominates the line of scrimmage once again, the Hurricanes' pair of defensive advantages will chase the Cardinals all over the field—and not in a good way. Games can be lost with poor play on the interior, and Miami is chasing its first 2014 opponent in that regard.
Overall, the 'Canes are definitely built to keep up with Louisville, but Petrino's team is not as depleted as it may seem on the surface.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.
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