Bobby Petrino is entering his eighth overall season as head coach of the Louisville Cardinals. But in his second stint at the helm, he is entering his fourth season. As a head coach, Petrino spent four years at Louisville, followed by a brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons, and then four years at Arkansas. Before coming back to Louisville this time, he had one season at WKU.
As he enters his fourth season at Louisville (again), I wanted to take a look at how the Cards and Razorbacks fared in the past when Petrino was in his fourth season with the teams. I am a numbers guy. I understand they don’t tell the full story, but there are still some trends worth looking at.
In his third season at Louisville in 2005, the Cards went 9-3. They followed that with a 12-1 record in 2006, Petrino’s fourth season, and capped it off with the program’s first ever BCS Bowl win over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl. Brian Brohm was in his third season as QB for the Cards, after playing sparingly as a freshman before taking over as a sophomore. Sounds familiar.
But isn’t the schedule much more difficult now in the ACC? Don’t forget, Louisville played about as tough of a schedule as you could in the Big East in 2006. I never want to give Kentucky credit, and I won’t, but the Wildcats finished that season 8-5 and beat Clemson in the Music City Bowl. Louisville destroyed Kentucky 59-28. The Cards played four top 20 teams (Miami, West Virginia, Rutgers, Wake Forest) and went 3-1. The schedule wasn’t that bad.
Let’s head to Arkansas for the 2011 campaign, which was Petrino’s fourth. The Razorbacks improved in every season with Petrino as head coach. They went 10-3 in year three, but in year four, they improved to 11-2 and beat Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. They played six teams ranked in the top 15 and went 4-2. Those two losses were to #1 LSU and #3 Alabama, both on the road.
Tyler Wilson was the starting QB for Arkansas in 2011. It was his first year as a starter, so not the same path as Brohm or Lamar Jackson, but it was his fourth year in the program. After being a student in Petrino’s system for that long, Wilson responded by throwing for 3,639 yards with 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Louisville went 41-9 in Petrino’s first four seasons as a head coach. Their best record came in his fourth year, 12-1.
Arkansas went 34-17 in Petrino’s four seasons there. Their best record? His fourth year, 11-2.
Against AP ranked teams at Louisville from 2003-2006, Petrino’s teams were 0-2, 1-1, 0-1, and 3-1.
Against AP ranked teams at Arkansas from 2008-2011, Petrino’s teams were 2-3, 1-4, 3-3, and 4-2.
Louisville entered the 2006 season ranked 13th in the AP Poll. They finished 6th.
Arkansas entered the 2011 season ranked 15th in the AP Poll. They finished 5th.
The preseason poll comes out in late August, but the Cards could find themselves ranked around that 13-15 range, just like Petrino’s teams of the past.
Is this a large sample size for Petrino? Not really, just two schools. But Louisville went from Conference USA to the Big East in Petrino’s tenure and still got better. Arkansas is in the SEC West and still got better. Year four and the continuity that comes with it has been successful for Petrino in the past. Will the trend continue?
He has done it with a quarterback in his third season and veteran starter. He has done it with a quarterback in his first full season as a starter. What will he do with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner?
We will find out in just over five weeks when the season kicks off. Go Cards...Beat Purdue!