Will Gardner is tasked with filling the shoes of the single greatest player in Louisville football history. No pressure. Gardner will, however, have two of the best quarterback coaches in the country to help him master the position. Bobby Petrino and Garrick McGee teamed up at Arkansas to coach two of the best passers in Razorback history in Ryan Mallet and Tyler Wilson. Petrino's track record with the guys he coached at Louisville is well known, but having a coach like McGee that knows exactly what a quarterback needs to do in his system is extremely important.
Gardner shined in the spring game this year, rarely missing his target and distributing the ball to all of the weapons at his disposal. He got the ball down the field to DeVante Parker and James Quick, and he looked great on the quick hitters that permeate Petrino's offense. At no point during any open practice or the spring game did I feel like I was watching a "new" quarterback. That's probably the highest praise I could give to a guy that's barely seen any live game action. The happy feet and obvious jitters we saw last spring have all but gone away and he looks like a guy that is ready to take on the challenge of replacing Teddy Bridgewater.
While Gardner is the obvious choice to be the starter this year, the spot to back him up is pretty much up in the air. Kyle Bolin looked to be the obvious choice going into the spring, but an undiagnosed injury looks to have unknowingly impacted his performance. Shortly after the spring game Bolin had surgery on his medial meniscus that he says he wasn't aware he injured. That might help explain his obvious struggles during spring practice. At one point he was distinctly behind Brett Nelson on the depth chart. Bolin has now been cleared to practice and he hopes to win the spot as the primary backup for Gardner.
As always, there's an incoming freshman to add intrigue to the situation. Local star Reggie Bonnafon has gotten rave reviews from Petrino since he arrived on campus. Bonnofan has a monster arm and he's an unbelievable athlete. The question, as always, is can he learn a complex offense in four months? I personally feel that Bonnafon will have a special package to get him on the field. Petrino and McGee didn't hide the fact that they have some read option built into the offense. With Gardner's injury history I don't see him being the guy they look to keep the defense honest. Bonnafon is a quarterback that happens to be a great runner. That should help him in his battle to be the second string quarterback. It should be fun to watch he and Bolin go at it this fall.
AROUND THE ACC:
You can kinda call this my attempt at a preseason all conference team, but really it's just an opportunity to highlight some guys that we will face this year. I watch a ton of football but not nearly enough to pretend I know who will actually be the best players this year.
The reigning Heisman winner from Florida State is on another level when compared to the other players in the league. Winston is an athletic pocket passer that is one of the best leaders in the conference if not the country. With the ridiculous weapons he has at his disposal, it's hard to imagine him not having another stellar season.
NEXT IN LINE:
This could easily be Marquise Williams from UNC or Cole Stoudt from Clemson. I went with Boone because he really only had two truly bad games last year and he followed them with his three best games of the year. He also gets to throw to Jamison Crowder and gets to be coached by David Cutcliffe. Williams and Stoudt are both surrounded by a ton of talent so they should both also have good years.
Pitt is my pick for the sleeper team in the league. They have a few really good players on the offensive side of the ball that should really help the former four star ease into the full time starter. He also has an all american in Tyler Boyd to throw to o help as well.