Momma always said don't go wishing your life away. We all are stubborn, and we've learned the hard way that momma is usually right, but recent developments in the world of Louisville Football have me pining for some pigskin. Modest best describes my expectations some six months ago for the 2015 season, but come August 2016 it is go big, go bold, and go to Charlotte.
Excitement for the 2016 Louisville Offense began building during the second half of the Auburn game and hit euphoria at the bars on Broadway in Nashville. Kelby Johnson, Aaron Epps, and Corvin Lamb aside, the Cardinals return every significant contributor on the offensive side of the football. The success and impact of Louisville's freshmen and sophomores was well reported throughout the season and now these stars in the making have an entire offseason to get bigger, faster, and stronger while continuing to learn and evolve in Bobby Petrino's evolving offensive system. If the majority can stay healthy throughout the offseason, best of luck ACC defenses and hello juggernaut.
After Lamar Jackson outgained Texas A&M by himself in the Music City Bowl, the majority of Cardinal supporters began rejoicing about his future as the starting quarterback for the University of Louisville. However, there still appears to be a small, but loud minority that refuses to accept Jackson as the future. Lamar is the "guy" and he is a talent unseen at this University and could be Louisville's first Heisman finalist.
100% of Cardinal Fans accepted Teddy as the "guy" following his 2011 campaign so to settle the Action Jackson debate let's have a little fun comparing the two. In 2011, Teddy won five games as a starter and won another game coming off the bench. Lamar won five games as a starter this season, which includes a bowl victory over an SEC opponent, and won one game for the Cardinals coming off the bench. Against a tougher schedule and variables such as the ever rotating QB carousel, Lamar's team had a more successful season. Teddy threw 14 touchdowns against 12 interceptions in 11', completed 65% of his passes, and compiled over 2,100 yards. In fifty less attempts, Lamar threw 12 touchdowns against eight interceptions, completed 55% of his passes, and totaled 1,849 yards through the air. The biggest eye opener here is completion percentage, but Teddy was facing easier competition and no one is arguing that Lamar doesn't need to improve his accuracy.
Also, it is impossible to ignore Action Jackson's contribution with his legs. Lamar was the leading rusher for Louisville by over 300 yards, almost totaled 1,000 yards for the year, scored 11 touchdowns, and didn't play significant minutes in three games. Teddy rushed for 66 yards his freshman year and only scored four rushing touchdowns. Yes, Lamar must devote himself to mastering the playbook and evolving into a complete quarterback, but with his arm strength and ability to make any pass, even with minor improvement he will be the finishing touch that makes Coach Petrino's offense unstoppable.
The last piece to confirm is Devonte Fields, and if he chooses to return along with Kelsey, Brown, Wiggins, and Harvey-Clemons, then defensive expectations may match or exceed those set for the offense. The Cardinals will lose valuable pieces in Pio Vatuvei, Sheldon Rankins, James Burgess, and Jermaine Reve, but with the returning starters and talented depth established by Petrino and his staff, Todd Grantham will have an opportunity to showcase the best Cardinal defensive unit in the program's limited history. Louisville is quickly becoming a successful springboard for NFL defensive talent and it will be a relief for fans to watch both sides of the ball dominate in 2016.
Often overlooked, but equally important are special teams. Louisville loses Joshua Appleby and John Wallace to graduation, and their replacements must be willing and able to fill their cleats. I predicted before the season that Wallace would be the most overlooked offensive MVP, and not to toot my own horn, but field goals and point after attempts played a vital role in seven of Louisville's 13 games. I am not sure who Petrino and Co. have tapped to fill Appleby and Wallace's shoes, but if Louisville is to make it to the ACC Championship, the Cardinals cannot take any steps backward in the kicking game.
The goals over the next four months are crystal clear. Coach Petrino needs to retain and or fill out his staff with the best possible candidates, the Cardinals need to sign a top 30 class while filling holes in the offensive line and secondary, the returning players and early enrollees must live in the weight room, and Lamar Jackson should take a page from Teddy's book and devote himself to studying every aspect of the quarterback position. I know it's basketball season in the Bluegrass and Louisville has a very real opportunity to hang banner number four come April, but it is never too early to dream and the 2016 football season is filling my head with visions of grandeur. 2015 may belong to Clemson or Alabama, but by August, why not us?
All Hail UofL !!