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Can Louisville football handle the hype in 2016?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports


Took ya long enough! August is upon us and for the 300 million-ish Americans ready for a break from the political circus, football is back. The Cardinals enter fall 2016 with lofty goals, elite returning talent, and reasonable expectations as they find themselves in a precarious situation. Louisville isn't quite flying under the radar, but no one has picked them to crash the playoffs. "Dark horse" seems to be the consensus in describing Louisville's championship chances, however, there is a little more hype and hope when debating Lamar Jackson's odds to attend the Heisman Trophy celebration in New York. Coach Petrino finally has a team, and a quarterback, that are able to make a run. A few media members and 98.3% of the fans believe this could be a year to remember, but can the Cards handle the hype.

Bobby Petrino's first two seasons back at Louisville may have been some of the toughest and or most stressful years of his career. 2014 fielded a roster stacked with NFL talent, yet the season was defined by consistently sub-par quarterback play and the "what if Teddy stayed" question mark. 2015 should have been acknowledged as a rebuilding year due to the departure of 10 draft picks and a schedule tougher than any the program had ever faced, but fans will be fans. Last season was another struggle for Coach Petrino's high flying offense as the quarterback carousel turned rapidly until finally coming to a halt in the second half trouncing of arch rival Kentucky. The Cardinals found "the guy", and after Lamar Jackson's record breaking bowl performance Louisville Football seems poised to challenge the ACC elite.

It is unusual for true sophomore quarterbacks to garner the type of attention Action Jackson has received this offseason, but Lamar is an unusual talent. His arm strength at 18 years old was more than impressive and there isn't a defense in college football that could catch the kid in open field. Jackson is a year older, a year stronger, and most importantly a year wiser. He represented the program very well at ACC media days and has been named an offensive captain. His press clippings, coupled with quotes from teammates and coaches, have led us to believe we have another Teddy on our hands in terms of work ethic and diligence. Can Jackson deliver now that he is the one and only option?

The spotlight is completely on Lamar now, but we have good reason to believe it will only help him shine brighter. Jackson's best moments a year ago came against Louisville's toughest opponents and in its biggest games. Number eight started just seven games in 2015, yet he led the Cardinals in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and wins. Jackson had a 5-2 record as a starter, but was almost better off the bench almost bringing Louisville back against Auburn and Pittsburgh, then demoralizing Kentucky by preventing the Cats from reaching a bowl. As an 18 year old knowing roughly 30-40% of the playbook, Lamar's shoulders were able to carry the rebuilding Cardinals to an 8-5 record. A sophomore slump is not in the cards for number eight.

Lamar won't be asked to do nearly as much this year because Louisville's roster is deep and talented at almost every position. The Cardinals may never have another DeVante Parker, but Louisville's receiving unit is arguably better and deeper than ever before. Nine receivers listed 6'3 or taller will see playing time in 2016, and the "shorter ones" are speed demons led by James Quick and Traveon Samuel. The tight end position is also a bright spot with the return of Cole Hikutini, Mickey Crum, Keith Towbridge, and Charles Standberry. Throw in the massive receiver coaching upgrade of Lonnie Galloway and Louisville's passing offense should be unstoppable.

The Cardinal's biggest achilles heel in 2015 was the play of the offensive line. Eight players return after seeing meaningful action a season ago and the coaching staff has done a solid job of signing much needed depth. Louisville has a very experienced and skilled backfield, but due to the problems up front, the running game has never been able to succeed. Senior Brandon Radcliff and junior L.J. Scott should finally see some open holes in 2016, and if they can at least push the pile forward this year, Louisville's offense will be setting off some much needed fireworks.

2014 and 2015 were anchored by a strong defense and it appears there will be no letting up in 2016. Despite a tragic injury to Cornelius Sturghill and a few recovery complications for Trevon Young, the Cardinals return 18 defensive players with significant experience. Louisville's linebackers and safeties will lead the defense as Keith Kelsey, Devonte Fields, and Josh Harvey-Clemons make their case to be first round draft picks. Depth on the defensive line is a slight question mark, but youngsters such as G.G. Robinson should be ready to step up alongside DeAngelo Brown and Drew Bailey to fill the massive shoes left behind by Sheldon Rankins. Louisville's defense should be stout again in 2016, however, with the improvement of the offense, Grantham's unit should feel a lot less pressure to win games and score points for the Cardinals.

23 days of purgatory are all that remain. September 1st inches closer by the minute and I'm not sure our country, or our city, has been more ready for the return of college football. Clemson and Florida State are both ranked inside the top five and shall remain Louisville's tallest hurdle until proven otherwise. Is this the year the Cardinals make the leap? The schedule sets up perfectly, the coaching staff is remarkable, the returning talent is envious, and the Cardinals have a quarterback that is ready to be a star. The Seminoles and Tigers can wait their turn because all that matters now is Charlotte: Louisville is ready to handle the hype.

All Hail UofL !!