Previewing The Big East: Louisville Cardinals

Dan Kelley@DanKelleyWritesCorrespondent IJune 19, 2009

LOUISVILLE - OCTOBER 27:  Head coach Steve Kragthorpe of the Louisville Cardinals argues with the referee during the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Papa John?s Cardinal Stadium on October 27, 2007 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

With Greg Robinson’s stay in Syracuse over, Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe has officially planted himself on the hottest seat in the Big East. Going into his third year in Louisville, Kragthorpe will need to win now or he may not be back for a fourth season.

The bad news for the Cardinals is that they lose a considerable amount of talent from an overall disappointing team last year.  Gone are quarterback Hunter Cantwell, first team All-Big East linemen Eric Wood and George Bussey as well as the majority of their starting defensive line from last season. 

The Cards really struggled defensively last season, allowing a whopping 29.8 points a game.  This year, the defense could be an absolute nightmare for Louisville fans. 

Listed as starters on the spring depth chart for Louisville are seniors Tyler Jessen and L.T. Walker at the defensive tackle positions and sophomores Greg Scruggs and William Savoy on the ends.  The four linemen all played sparingly last year, combining for only 27 tackles and two sacks (both by Savoy).  One of the biggest keys for any defense is finding ways to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and this unproven unit is going to have to step up and do just that to give the Cardinals any chance of having a respectable defense.

Things get a little better for the defense behind the line as Louisville returns one of their few bright spots from last season, second team All-Big East middle linebacker Jon Dempsey.  Dempsey recorded 80 stops last year to lead the team and should be a force in the middle again this season. He’ll be joined by fellow linebacker Antwon Canady who recorded 39 tackles last season.

In the secondary, the Cards will get a boost by the return of safety Richard Raglin, who missed the majority of 2008 with a wrist injury.  The leader of this unit though will be junior corner Johnny Patrick, who was third on the team with 50 tackles last season and also snagged an interception. 

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As a whole, the Cardinals defense has serious problems with depth and experience.  They’re going to need some of their young players to step up; otherwise this unit could struggle mightily in 2009. 

Unfortunately for Cards fans, things don’t look a whole lot better on the offensive side of the ball.

Three different quarterbacks are still competing for the starting job that’s been vacated by Hunter Cantwell.  It doesn’t appear that any of them have separated themselves from the rest of the group, which could be a bad sign for the offense. 

None of the three competitors—juniors Justin Burke, Adam Froman and redshirt freshman Zach Stoudt saw any game action last year. 

The good news for whoever wins the starting job is that he’ll be throwing to a talented group of receivers.  If he can stay healthy, senior Scott Long has the physical ability to be one of the top receivers in the Big East. However, last year his season was cut short by a torn ACL that he suffered practice and it remains to be seen if he’ll be 100 percent for the season. Louisville also returns its two leading receivers from a year ago—Doug Beaumont and Josh Chichester.

The biggest reason for optimism in Louisville though is the return of sophomore Victor Anderson, who ran for over 1,000 yards last year as a freshman.  Anderson showcased his tremendous talent last year behind a solid offensive line led by Eric Wood and George Bussey. With those two gone to the NFL now, Anderson may have a harder time finding space to run this year. If the line can replace those two without missing a beat, the Cards should have one of the most potent running games in the Big East.

Unfortunately for the Cards, despite the presence of Anderson and some solid receivers, it looks like they simply have too many question marks on both sides of the ball to be considered real contenders in the Big East.

If one of Louisville’s untested quarterbacks emerge from the pack and plays well all year, they might be able to overcome their below average defense enough to win a few conference games. However, things look bleak for the Cardinals in 2009. Card fans may have to take solace in the possibility of hiring a new coach for 2010.

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