In a rule that should be adopted by its basketball brethren, college baseball players are not allowed to turn professional until they are three years removed from their high school graduation.
For many programs, this rule results in a cycle. Year one is the "rebuilding year," where you load up with as much young talent as you can find and throw them directly into the fire. Year two is the "moving year," where the young talent is now experienced enough to compete at an elite level, but still prone to the occasional growing pains. Year three, as Cardinal coach Dan McDonnell has referred to it in the past, "is when you take your shot."
The 2013 season is looking like Louisville's shot.
The best evidence of that came Thursday morning, when the Cardinals were ranked as the preseason No. 4 team in the country by Baseball America. It's the highest ranking in the history of the program.
Hitting: 60. Louisville returns eight battle-tested starters from a team that ranked 20th in the nation in scoring last year. In Engel and Sturgeon, the Cardinals have a pair of dynamic options for the leadoff spot, and Ratajczak's bat-handling prowess makes him an ideal No. 2 hitter. Young, Johnson, Gardner and Wasserman form a formidable quartet of run producers who all hit for average in the middle of the lineup. Gibson and Lucas won't give away outs, either.
Experience/Intangibles: 65. Loaded with two- or three-year starters in the lineup and two returning members of the weekend rotation, Louisville's experience is a major asset. The stellar coaching staff has been together for six years and functions like a well-oiled machine.
Baseball America OFP: 65. The Cardinals reached a regional final at eventual national champion Arizona last year, and anything short of their first trip to Omaha since 2007 will be a disappointment this spring. This team is a legitimate championship contender.
The only teams ranked above Louisville are North Carolina, regional rival Vanderbilt and Arkansas. Mississippi State rounds out the top five.
The fun's not going to end with basketball this year.