Garry Jones/Associated Press
Bobby Petrino is ready to lead Louisville into a new adventure in the ACC.
Louisville is one of the biggest winners in college football realignment. The Cardinals went 23-3 over the last two seasons with a Sugar Bowl rout of Florida and a Russell Athletic Bowl rout of Miami before coach Charlie Strong bolted for Texas, replaced by old-new coach Bobby Petrino.
They escaped the American Athletic Conference (which won’t have an automatic ticket into the new College Football Playoff) for the ACC, one of the new "Power 5" conferences.
Petrino’s new assignment isn’t easy. Louisville replaces Maryland in the ACC Atlantic Division, which features a pair of returning BCS bowl winners in defending national champion Florida State and Clemson.
Patrick Stevens of The Post-Standard in Syracuse says the move isn't that different from the last time Petrino coached at Louisville, when he helped the Cardinals transition from Conference USA to the Big East in 2003.
"We feel like we can go in and compete," Petrino said on last month’s ACC coaches’ spring teleconference. "That's certainly our goal and something that we're going to work towards. But we're going to have to show it."
Strong didn’t leave the cupboard bare. Petrino must replace NFL first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in program history, with sophomore Will Gardner, who stands 6'5" and still has some mobility and capability of moving in the pocket.
He has some excellent targets, including explosive receiver DeVante Parker and speedy wideouts Eli Rogers and James Quick. Louisville also returns four starting offensive linemen to help smooth Gardner’s transition.
There will be some transition on defense. A year ago, Louisville’s defense ranked No. 1 in total defense (allowing 251.1 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (allowing 12.2 points per game), but new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham returns only four starters and is converting from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme.
Louisville’s first schedule will be daunting: The Cardinals travel to Notre Dame and Clemson, and host Florida State and Miami. But eight to nine wins isn’t an unrealistic expectation for a first ACC season, which wouldn’t be too bad given the jump in competition.