Louisville lost its star in LAmar Jackson, but if it can’t repeat last season’s 8-5 record at a minimum, it’ll be considered a disappointment for the fans. While the offense was dynamic last season with close to 40 points per Game, the defense often struggled and is an area that needs to improve for the Cardinals. They’re projected for Fourth in the ACC Atlantic division, just ahead of Wake Forest with +32500 spring odds (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the National Championship. That said, their over/under is still floating around 7.5 wins.
Quarterback is the first order of issue and the good news is that Jawon Pass is the hands-down top guy. He played the entire spring Game and as a redshirt sophomore, already has two years in the system. He’s a big quarterback with a big arm and should keep the offense flowing with all of the top wide outs returning in Jaylen Smith (873 yards, 6 TDs), Dez Fitzpatrick (9 TDs) and Seth Dawkins (604 yards). The bigger skill issue in the offense is at running back where none of the top guys return. Dae Williams (232 yards) and Colin Wilson (69 yards) are set to lead the way, but both missed most of spring and neither had much experience anyway. To help, the line should be just as good with only one relevant piece gone from the group. While the Cardinals may not rush for 3,000 yards again (Jackson ran for half of that), this team should still be able to move the ball effectively.
More importantly, the defense can only improve after getting shown up by teams like Boston College and Wake last season. A lot of transfers could be set for significant time, whether that’s Michael Boykin and Jared Goldwire up front or P.J. Mbanasor and Rodjay Burns at corner. There may be a learning curve with those guys, but the experience at linebacker should make things easier with Dorian Etheridge in the middle and Jon Greenard making plays on the outside. Safety is also in a similar situation with Dee Smith and TreSean Smith expected to be a top duo. The defense may not be elite, but there’s no reason it can’t improve from last season if the transfers can get comfortable early.
The problem for Louisville is that it has to open the season against Alabama, a Game in which it’s more than a three-touchdown underdog. The Cardinals also host Florida State at the end of September, so the early Schedule is far from kind. At the end of the day, all of their home Games need to be wins outside of the Florida State contest. Throw in favorable trips to Virginia, Boston College and Syracuse and there’s an opportunity for nine wins in the regular season. That may be the best-case scenario considering Pass at quarterback and questions on the defense. Still, a bowl Game is expected from the Cardinals with eight wins a reliable projection.
2018 Louisville Cardinals Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. Alabama (Camping World Stadium, Orlando)
Sept. 8 vs. Indiana State
Sept. 15 vs. Western Kentucky
Sept. 22 at Virginia
Sept. 29 vs. Florida State
Oct. 5 vs. Georgia Tech
Oct. 13 at Boston College
Oct. 27 vs. Wake Forest
Nov. 3 at Clemson
Nov. 9 at Syracuse
Nov. 17 vs. NC State
Nov. 24 vs. Kentucky