Louisville will kick off the season with Auburn on Saturday afternoon, but we do have four more games to take a look at on our monthly tour around the Cardinal football schedule.
So far, things are looking pretty good through September and October. That takes us to November, where Louisville could be vying for a spot in the ACC title game. Let's take a look at the final third of the Louisville schedule and see if anything could trip them up as they head for the finish line.
Syracuse Orange — Home — Nov. 7, TBA, TV TBA
The gist: Quarterback Terrel Hunt is back with the Orange for his senior season, and we know that his legs are more of a threat than his arm. Last season, that wasn't good for his sake. Hunt rushed for a total of -7 yards despite having a long run for 18. Syracuse wasn't a good team last year, and the offensive group that returns around Hunt is uninspiring. If there's a positive here, it's that his pass-catching targets are all big bodies and there are plenty of seniors on the offensive line.
A lot of starting experience left a Syracuse defense that was unquestionably the strength of a bad team in 2014. The good news for the Orange may be that a lot of those starters will at least be replaced by a decent amount of upperclassmen. Nevertheless, there is considerable turnover both up front and in the secondary, which will certainly change the complexion of a unit that was successfully aggressive last season. We'll see where they stand when they arrive at PJCS in November.
The verdict: Not enough has changed in Syracuse since Louisville handed them a 28-6 defeat last season to make this an alarming game for the Cards. As we know, Todd Grantham's defense that held the Orange to six points will have new faces, but plenty of talent remains, and it should be plenty to slow the Orange. Offensively, Brandon Radcliff won't forget the 110 yards and two touchdowns he rushed for last season despite Syracuse's strong defensive front.
Virginia Cavaliers — Home — Nov. 14, TBA, TV TBA
The gist: Matt Johns will likely be the quarterback this season when Virginia visits Louisville, and he has a strong arsenal of weapons around him. At least, he's supposed to. Former 5-star running back Taquan Mizzell is now a junior, and he'll likely have the backfield largely to himself to prove that he was worth such lofty hype coming out of high school. Out wide, former 4-star receiver Canaan Severin comes into his senior season after leading Virginia in catches a season ago. An experienced offensive line is back for the Cavaliers as well.
The Virginia defense was strong last season, but it loses its three leading linebackers. Fortunately for them, talent returns both up front (only Eli Harold leaves the defensive line) and in the secondary (former 5-star Quin Blanding is only a sophomore and is joined by a cornerback corps full of upperclassmen). Connelly points out in his preview that some of the best teams Virginia played last season under-performed offensively, and Louisville was no different. Bobby Petrino's first offensive unit in his return to Louisville was held to 4.0 yards per play despite a season average of 5.5.
The verdict: This one hurt last season, so while the Cavs could easily be another tricky opponent this season, there's little chance of Louisville allowing them to be a tripping point for a second straight season. With that said, it could still be a close one.
Pittsburgh Panthers — Road — Nov. 21, TBA, TV TBA
The gist: Pitt catches a lot of grief, and for good reason. This season, Pat Narduzzi arrives to try to turn things around. The Panthers finished 6-7 last season, including an epic collapse against Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl. Still, former 4-star quarterback Chad Voytik returns, as does his star running back, James Conner. Conner was a beast last season, rushing for over 1700 yards and 26 touchdowns. Top receiver Tyler Boyd is back, too, though Pitt will likely be looking for a couple of new options in the passing attack this season. Still, this could be a good offensive unit again in 2015.
The defensive side is where Narduzzi's specialty lies, and this defense could use a boost. There's experience aplenty across the board on this side of the ball, so the new head coach will presumably have plenty to work with to hit the ground running. If Michigan State's recent defenses are any indication, Pitt will get going in the right direction here this season.
The verdict: This feels like it could be a nail-biter, but there's no reason Louisville shouldn't win. It's a road game where weather could be an annoyance, but Petrino's offense will be too much for year one of the Narduzzi defense in Pittsburgh.
Kentucky Wildcats — Nov. 28, TBA, TV TBA
The gist: This was far too close for comfort last season. Hopefully it won't be this season. Patrick Towles will be the starting quarterback, and Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp return to the backfield to form a good backfield tandem. They'll have an experienced offensive line in front of them, too, so if Towles can figure out a couple of targets to replace Demarco Robinson and Javess Blue, the Wildcat offense should continue to improve.
Bud Dupree, Za'Darius Smith and Mike Douglas are all gone from last season's defensive line, and while there is some experience left behind them, it isn't too inspiring on paper. With that said, the linebacking corps returns en masse, as does most of the defensive back field. Still, that defensive backfield wasn't anything special last season, so the fact that they all return may or may not be good. Chemistry and experience will have to be catalysts here, because the talent may not exactly be good enough.
The verdict: Kentucky made us nervous last season, but they won't this season. Right? Louisville fans will leave the renovated Commonwealth Stadium feeling fine.
Now, let's get ready for Auburn.
Yeah, we're already ready.