I don't understand what Football Study Hall is talking about 99% of the time because Mike Rutherford does not do math (or bike-riding), but I'm sure there are a number of you out there who will appreciate his work today.
First, FSH breaks down why Louisville losing four offensive linemen might not be quite the blow some are fearing.
Here are some correlations between returning starters in a given unit and one-year change in Off. F/+:
Correlations To Change In Off. F/+
Returning QB: 0.264
Returning RB: 0.041
Returning WR/TE: 0.283
Returning OL: 0.167
None of these correlations are truly strong, but the correlations connected to the passing game are stronger than those most directly connected to the run game. Meanwhile the OL correlations are quite a bit weaker than those of most projection factors we observe in our Football Outsiders Almanac projections.
Correlations To Change in Rushing S&P+
Returning QB: 0.106
Returning RB: 0.086
Returning OL: 0.207
Data has been hinting more and more at the interchangeability of running backs, and this certainly backs that up a bit. There is but the slightest, weakest correlation between losing your starting running back and seeing your rushing numbers regress the next season. Here we see that there is at least a bit of a correlation between an experienced line and an improved run game, which doesn't hint at greatness for Louisville's Victor Anderson running behind a green line, but still ... these are still minimal correlations.
Correlations To Change in Passing S&P+
Returning QB: 0.273
Returning RB: 0.037
Returning WR/TE: 0.223
Returning OL: 0.067
An experienced quarterback can evidently do wonders for a passing game (who knew?), but these correlations are still surprisingly low. There is apparently an argument to be made that pure talent -- regardless of experience -- is what matters on offense.
Bill Connelly, the proprietor of FSH, also offers up a thick 2011 season preview for the Cards on the SBN home site. His final outlook is...not great.
It truly was a jarring three-year regression for the Cardinals following Petrino's departure, but in just one season Strong and company were able to restore Louisville to the Big East average. Unfortunately, things almost certainly get tougher in Year Two. There are so many new pieces (and there were so many injuries in the spring that prevented in-depth looks at certain replacements), and the YPP margin suggests the Cardinals were a bit lucky last year.
I thought Strong was a wonderful hire, and with some of the recruiting battles he has been winning, it's safe to assume this program is on an upward trajectory. But signs point to second-year regression. It's common with teams that take a huge, one-year leap forward anyway, and when you look at the lack of experience involved, it becomes even more likely, even if correlations between experience and success are not as strong as we might think. The schedule is pretty rough, with road trips to Kentucky, North Carolina, Cincinnati, West Virginia, UConn and South Florida, meaning Louisville will have to either sweep the home slate or pull an upset or two to reach another bowl. It's certainly doable, but I'm thinking no amount of Will Stein Positivity™ can make Louisville too successful in 2011.
I'm not going to say I disagree, because I don't. The only bad thing about last season was that it unfairly raised expectations for this season. People forget how many seniors were on the 2010 team, especially at key positions. Those expecting Louisville to compete for a Big East title in Strong's second year because he won a bowl game in his first are setting themselves up for a major disappointment.
This time next year, however, I think solidly above average expectations will be warranted.