First Cardinal Landing Spot, the ATL
Not that anyone is counting, but in less than 4 days (even less for the fans of other select teams) the long awaited 2015-16 college football season will begin. Selfishly I gear my focus on the Louisville Cardinals who will flock toward the south and descend upon the city of Atlanta to take on the preseason number two nationally ranked Auburn Tigers this Saturday. It seems like an utter eternity since I last flipped on a college football game, but the wait for its return is always worth it. In this particular blog, the first since checking in periodically over the summer months, I’m going to give a few opinions and predictions regarding the Cards as well as the ACC conference. Near the conclusion, I will also give out a few other tidbits and share some thoughts regarding Louisville basketball.
First up for discussion, the 2015 Louisville Cardinal Football team. In my mind, there are 5 lingering questions that remain unanswered that will determine this team’s success or demise on the gridiron this season.
- Will Brandon Radcliffe have a break out year and build off a strong end to the 2014 season?
- Who will be UofL’s starting quarterback and will that guy be effective?
- Will DeVonte Fields live up to the hype?
- Is this the year that James Quick becomes a go to receiver?
- Can the UofL defense stay healthy especially up front?
Most of those questions probably won’t be answered until, at the earliest, mid season. But I certainly like UofL’s chances of returning to another bowl game If the answer is “yes” to the majority that I have posed? In short, I predict another solid year for the Cards. At this juncture, I am picking Will Gardner as the starting QB against Auburn. He appears to be healthy and has the size and arm strength to be effective against a stout SEC defense in the Tigers. I do also think, however, that we could see Reggie Bonnafon play a few series as well. He brings another dimension to the table in his ability to leave the pocket and use his legs to punish defenses (see Notre Dame).
In regards to James Quick, I would like to see him finally get more balls thrown his way, in light of his move to the slot receiver position. I am confident that his speed and overall play-making abilities are an asset that could provide this year’s offense with a much needed boost in light of the departures of phenom DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers. One thing that does make me feel better is that even if Quick were to have only a modest year, there are some studs-in-the-making at the WR position just to showcase their skills. By studs I am referring to guys like Javonte Bagley, Devante Peete and true freshmen Traveon Samuel and Emonee Spence. As for Brandon Radcliffe, I absolutely believe he will explode back onto the scene and have a monster year. With that said, I also look for LJ Scott to also do some damage and provide some high quality back up carries. Last but not least, my fingers are crossed that Devonte Fields, the one time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (as a freshman), does indeed fill the shoes of the departed Lorenzo Mauldin and anchors a defense, that despite losing multiple players to this past sunmer’s NFL Draft, that could wreak havoc on opposing offenses. I am giddy at the prospect of watching newcomers Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins roam the UofL secondary
I am equally as excited to watch Sheldon Rankins and the ACC’s top group of linebackers (Kelsey/Burgess/Brown/Fields) make multiple big play and attempt to slow down Auburn’s ground attack. The bottom line is that Bobby Petrino’s teams are almost always better in year two and I think that trend will hold true in 2015. Oh, and since becoming a D-1 head coach it cannot be overlooked that Bobby Petrino is 19-1 in season openers……..not too shabby.
My season prediction sure to go wrong: 9-3 (not including bowl game)
Projected losses: Auburn, at FSU, at NC State
Key wins: Clemson, Houston, at UK (5 in a row)
Two of the losses I am predicting are still winnable games, especially at NC State. However, I look for tge Wolfpack to be much improved from last season and tough to beat on their home turf especially when you add the revenge factor from a stinging loss at PJCS last season.. As for Auburn, I am predicting a loss while maintaining a high level of optimism. Win the turnover battle, avoid special teams disasters and establish ball control via the running game and UofL absolutely CAN beat Auburn. The only thing really holding back UofL aside from it’s opponent on Saturday in my opinion are their new helmets…..not a fan. But, I’m not on the roster or a potential recruit so matters not.
Regarding the ACC Conference as a whole, I have had limited time to completely comb over each and every roster. Thus, a good rendering of my pre-season research can be summed as such…….
With that said, here is my pre-season top 10 ACC team rankings
- Florida State
- Georgia Tech
- VA Tech
- NC State
- Boston College
Rankings aside, It’s shortly time to go to work and put the hype behind us. Only one things matters going forward – winning games and making my annual season ticket purchase worth my investment.
Moving on now to the Louisville Basketball team that recently spent a week playing the Junior and National Puerto Rican basketball squads down south. The games were rugged and rough but sure to have given this young crop of Cards plenty of valuable real-world playing experience. I’m not a columnist so I’ll save any detailed overview analysis other than to say a few words about each of the players on this year’s roster based on what I watched via the web (and Periscope one game via Kenny Klein)
Trey Lewis: tough, mature kid with good handles. Streaky shooter that can heat up and not afraid to dig in on defense
Dion Lee: offensive juggernaut and good shooter; can get to the rim and will be counted to score in bunches
Quentin Snider: steady as usual, great ball handling and decision making; still needs to shoot it better
Mangok Mathiang; bulkier and more confident yet still struggles to make 2-4 footers; needs to cut back on fouls
Ray Spaulding: showed the highest ceiling of anyone in Puerto Rico; great athlete with awesome natural instincts
Chinanu Onuaku: lighter and more active; I actually like the underhanded FT style; was solid defensively
David Levitch: people like to rib about his PT, but kid does understand how to play; has to get stronger with the ball
Deng Adel; natural scorer; long and quick; loved how he can consistently make 10-15 footers; future stud
Jaylen Johnson: still looks a step slow but yet productive on the glass and around the bucket on offense
Ryan McMahon: two years away, but will be a knock down perimeter threat; must gain 15-20 lbs to bang in the ACC
Donovan Mitchell: great athlete but must really improve on ball handling and passing; love his upside
Anas Mahmoud: very frustrating to watch – talent is there but intensity still is not; hoping it’s matter of time
Matz Stockman: showed marked improvement on offense; still a step slow on defense; must work on gathering in paint
As in years passed, predicting what Louisville Basketball will produce is about as easy as becoming the Executive Director of NASA. However, I do like what I saw down in Puerto Rico and for once I whole heartedly agree with Rick Pitino on something – these kids appear to be phenomenal teammates……supportive, team oriented, and focused on getting better. As always, a tough early non conference schedule followed by a brutal slate in the ACC will both challenge this squad to the point of being battle tested and ready for play in March. And anything can happen in March. Last year’s UofL team came within one possession of losing to a Georgia Tech team that only mustered up two league wins the entire season to being one made free throw away from going to it’s 11th Final Four a few months later. Coaching matters, player development matters, and most of all keeping one’s eye on the prize matters. It should be another fun ride starting in November
Here’s to hoping that Coach Petrino & Co get off to a 1-0 start after departing from Atlanta. I’ll be watching from afar unlike the 30,000+ Card fans who are making the trip. Safe travels everyone, drink responsibly and War Damn Cardinal!