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Thursday afternoon Cardinal news and notes

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Our collective feeling about Louisville football being back and the 2016-17 U of L athletic season being underway is perfectly summed up here by Knox.

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I_medium Spread check: Louisville by 38.5.

I_medium I'm blown away (and slightly terrified) by the amount of responses I've gotten for our first weekly pick 'em contest. You've still got a few hours left to join the party.

I_medium This was early this morning.

The kids are already in midseason tailgating form.

I_medium The C-J's Steve Jones tells us five things we should know about Charlotte ahead of tonight's game.

1. Charlotte is ranked as the worst team in the country.

At least that's what USA TODAY says in its 1-128 rankings of the entire Football Bowl Subdivision. (Louisville is No. 28, according to USA TODAY.) Not to be harsh, but this shapes up as a major mismatch at Charlotte faces an opponent ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time. The 49ers' football program is in its fourth year of existence and only the second at the FBS level. Charlotte beat only one FBS team last year  -- Georgia State 23-20 on the road in the season opener - and beat Presbyterian 34-10 the next week. Then the 49ers lost 10 straight to finish the season. Those losses included a 73-14 defeat at Middle Tennessee and 58-10 loss at Kentucky. That loss to UK - Charlotte's only previous game against a Power Five conference opponent - occurred the week before Louisville beat UK by 14 points last season. Charlotte was No. 119 nationally last year in scoring (17.5 points per game) and tied for No. 110 in scoring defense (36.3 points allowed per game). The 49ers scored 10 or fewer points six times. Charlotte's recent recruiting classes have been ranked nationally No. 115 in 2016, No. 127 in 2015, No. 115 in 2014 and No. 110 in 2013, according to the 247Sports.com composite ratings, with the large majority of its signees being two-star prospects.

I_medium Everyone is welcome at a Red Rage Tailgate, which is why those guys are the best.

I_medium SB Nation's college football bros pick the biggest games of the weekend.

I_medium It's awesome to see that the former Cards are just as excited as all of us are to watch Charlotte football tonight.

I_medium Eric Crawford deals out his expectations for the 2016 Louisville football season.

I_medium The contrast between the two programs has never been so stark.

I_medium ESPN has a great feature on Eli Rogers, who continues to generate hype heading into his first full NFL season.

In Friday's win at New Orleans, Roethlisberger threw to Rogers on four of his first 14 attempts, resulting in two catches for 17 yards.

The Steelers have been hungry for a true slot receiver to pair with Antonio Brown, and they might just have it in Rogers, Teddy Bridgewater's close friend from Miami Northwestern High who went undrafted out of Louisville and missed all of last season with a foot injury.

Talk about a fast study. Roethlisberger said he jokes with Rogers about how annoying he is because of "how much he's in my ear asking questions."

"The more he can work the middle, the more safeties will have to respect him and stop cheating on AB," Roethlisberger said.

Now that Rogers is poised to be a factor in the offense, it's a good time to learn more about him...

I_medium A Miami Herald columnist has a pretty scathing critique of DeVante Parker, who he says is still having trouble adjusting to life in the NFL.

I_medium Brooke Katz should not gamble.

Good Morning Kentuckiana Anchor Derrick Rose issued the challenge to WCNC NBC Charlotte Traffic Anchor Brooke Katz, predicting the Cards would take home the win.

Katz, a former traffic anchor for GMK, along with her co-anchors Carolyn Bruck and Ben Thompson, gladly accepted the challenge.

If the Cards win Thursday night, Katz and her team offered to provide a case of North Carolina produced Cheerwine.

If the 49ers win, Derrick agreed to send some memorabilia from Churchill Downs to the team in Charlotte.

Don't go too crazy, guys.

I_medium Skip the bad stuff, arrive just in time for the good. She's already got life figured out.

I_medium Athlon predicts a 55-13 Louisville victory tonight.

I_medium Today's U has a strange angle on a story where they list three reasons why Miami needs to have a better season than Louisville in 2016.

I_medium You can't tell where one creepy bird ends and the other begins, which is perfect.

I_medium For those asking, there will be no "where we're watching" post today because there weren't a whole lot of watch parties going on tonight with the game being a regional broadcast. I'll be taking viewing locations next week in anticipation for Friday night's game at Syracuse.

I_medium If you're still wondering about where to find tonight's game on TV, here are your answers.

I_medium Roto World comes in at the last second with the highest preseason ranking for Louisville on record: No. 7.

7. Louisville Cardinals

Areas of strength: 1) Linebacker, 2) Quarterback, 3) Secondary

Areas of weakness: 1) Running Back, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Special Teams

Fantasy target: QB Lamar Jackson

Fantasy stay away: RB Brandon Radcliff

How should I think about this team?: The hype is real.

Most every writer—including this one—predicting the four-team College Football Playoff field this preseason has included either Clemson or Florida State; and in some cases, both. It's no lock that one of the two will be there, and the reason for that is Louisville. The ACC is a three-horse race this fall.

The Cardinals are freakishly athletic on both sides of the ball, experienced, deep and well coached. The offense took off late last season after QB Lamar Jackson finally displaced Kyle Bolin and captured the starting job for good. As a frosh, Jackson threw for 1,840 yards and rushed for another 1,143 if you don't count sacks, seductive output when considering that he didn't start all season and didn't know the playbook well when he was. Bolin is also back.

So are the top three running backs and basically the entire cast of characters at WR and TE. Louisville figures to get better on the perimeter as Jackson improves as a thrower and a few promising prospects become worthy compliments to top-dog WRs James Quick and Jamari Staples. Youngsters Jaylen Smith, Traveon Samuel and Devontee Peete all looked great as freshman, and former QB Reggie Bonnafon is a size/speed/hops gym rat freak who's had an entire offseason to fully settle in at his new position. Bonnafon is expected to start along with Quick and Staples. That's not all. With TEs Cole Hikutini, Keith Towbridge and Mickey Crum, Louisville has a tight end for all formations and situations.

If there's an offensive concern, it's along a line that gave up the most sack yardage and second-most sacks (44) of any FBS team last season. They consistently got stood up on running downs, too. That unit could improve greatly, however, because last season's crew had to break in two true freshman tackles, a redshirt freshman guard and a late-coming JUCO guard. The hope is that unnecessary sacks are a thing of the past now that Jackson is settled in and more comfortable in the pocket.

Defensively, Louisville must replace DEs Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei, LB James Burgess and nickel back Jermaine Reve—but that's about it. Rankins was a perfect fit for DC Todd Grantham's hybrid, hyper-aggressive 3-4 scheme, but the gains his old friends have made should offset his loss.

Up front, returning 6-foot-3, 320-pound DE DeAsian Richardson (ACL) is expected to join NT DeAngelo Brown and DE Drew Bailey in the starting lineup. The linebackers rank among the country's best, led by pass-rushing terrorDevonte Fields and run-stopping veteran Keith Kelsey, who had 107 tackles last year. The secondary surprisingly finished No. 51 in S&P+ pass defense last year. Expect improvement there, too, with former Georgia Bulldogs Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins helping out the high-level recruits who got their feet wet last year.

Bovada over/under win total: 9

Thor Nystrom's Prediction: Over

Everything goes right: 12-0

Nightmare Scenario: 8-4

I_medium Pete Thamel's preseason hot seat analysis features two ACC coaches.

I_medium And finally, R&R is live from Lynn Stadium from 3-6, and then we'll hand the reigns over to Mark Ennis for the pregame show. Mark will also host the Miller Lite Postgame Show, which is the only place on the radio where you'll be able to get immediate reaction, be able to call in and voice your opinion, and also hear Bobby Petrino's press conference in full.

You can also prank call him, which is always fun. Listen here.