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Top 25 team preview: No. 7 Louisville Cardinals

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Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for 3,718 yards and 27 TDs to lead Louisville to the BCS last year.

Louisville's 2013 schedule
DateOpponent
Sept. 1 vs. Ohio
Sept. 7 vs. Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 14 at Kentucky
Sept. 21 vs. Florida International
Oct. 5 at Temple
Oct. 10 vs. Rutgers
Oct. 18 vs. UCF
Oct. 26 at South Florida
Nov. 8 at Connecticut
Nov. 16vs. Houston
Nov. 23 vs. Memphis
Dec. 5 at Cincinnati
Top 25 Previews
1
Alabama
By Lars Anderson
 
2
Stanford
By Stewart Mandel
 
3
Texas A&M
By Stewart Mandel
 
4
Ohio State
By Stewart Mandel
 
5
Oregon
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
6
South Carolina
By Thayer Evans
 
7
Louisville
By Zac Ellis
 
8
Notre Dame
By Lars Anderson
 
9
Florida
By Andy Staples
 
10
Clemson
By Zac Ellis
 
11
Texas
By Stewart Mandel
 
12
Georgia
By Lars Anderson
 
13
Florida State
By Andy Staples
 
14
LSU
By Lars Anderson
 
15
Michigan State
By Ben Glicksman
 
16
TCU
By Dan Greene
 
17
Baylor
By Elizabeth McGarr McCue
 
18
Michigan
By Ted Keith
 
19
Oklahoma
By Richard Deitsch
 
20
Boise State
By Lars Anderson
 
21
UCLA
By R.J. Rico
 
22
Northwestern
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
23
Vanderbilt
By Zac Ellis
 
24
Northern Illinois
By Martin Rickman
 
25
Virginia Tech
By Zac Ellis
 

Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

The case for

Teddy Bridgewater, a junior, returns as one of the top passers in the country after racking up 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and a 68.5 percent completion rate in 2012. Bridgewater and the Cardinals, long dogged for their inferior résumé -- they move to the ACC next season -- trampled heavily favored Florida in last season's Sugar Bowl 33-23, kicking off a surge of momentum that carried into spring practice. There's talent on offense aside from Bridgewater: junior DeVante Parker and senior Damian Copeland headline a skilled receiving corps, while transfer running back Michael Dyer, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher at Auburn, adds a spark to the ground game.

The defense has nine returning starters from the unit that had three sacks and forced three turnovers against the Gators. The unit struggled with consistency last year -- especially in head-scratching losses to Syracuse and UConn -- but experience should help alleviate that problem.

The case against

Center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper were two mainstays on the line who won't be easy to replace. How Jake Smith handles his move from right guard to center and Jamon Brown his switch from right tackle to left will go a long way toward determining the Cardinals' success.

Schedule analysis

It's often the biggest criticism of the program, but Louisville again doesn't have a power conference test on its schedule in 2013 -- not one team in SI's Top 25. A home game against Rutgers on Oct. 10 and a season-ending trip to Cincinnati loom as the biggest obstacles to an undefeated season.

Key stat

25: The number of combined wins for Louisville during Strong's tenure at the helm. The Cardinals enter 2013 seeking their third straight conference title; no Louisville coach has ever claimed three straight league crowns.

Breakout player

DE Lorenzo Mauldin: Mauldin was emerging as one of the Cardinals' top pass rushers last fall when he partially tore his left MCL. He missed two games but finished as the team leader with 4.5 sacks. Now healthy, Mauldin is the key to a revamped front seven.

Freshman to watch

WR James Quick: A five-star prospect out of Trinity (Ky.) High, Quick racked up 4,437 receiving yards over his four-year prep career. He has the speed to bolster Louisville's aerial attack and kick return game; Quick is the Kentucky high school state record holder in the 200-meter dash.

X-factor

The ground game: When leading rusher Jeremy Wright opted not to return for his senior year, backfield responsibilities fell to Brown, who missed all of last season with a torn MCL. Senorise Perry is also bouncing back from a knee injury, and Dyer hasn't played competitively since the 2011 campaign. The talent is there, but this unit enters the fall with lots of question marks.

Projected 2013 stats (By RotoWire.com)

QB Teddy Bridgewater: 3,887 passing yards, 35 TDs; 30 rushing yards, 2 TDs

RB Michael Dyer: 840 rushing yards, 10 TDs; 60 receiving yards

WR DeVante Parker: 1,137 receiving yards, 13 TDs; 25 rushing yards

Coach speak: Charlie Strong

SI: How much of the program's success can be traced to recruiting in Florida?

CS: Right now we have about 35 players from Florida. That's where it all starts, recruiting-wise. There aren't many players in Kentucky. We try to take care of Kentucky, and then we go to Florida.

SI: How much higher is the talent level now than when you took over in 2010?

CS: It's not even close. You're always looking to build depth, and we've been able to go get some outstanding players.

SI: What's improved about Teddy Bridgewater from last year?

CS: Now, this is his football team. He's grown so much as an individual and matured so much. He knows this team will only go as far as he takes them.

SI: On defense, what area needs the most improvement?

CS: It has to be up front. Our defensive line has to play better. If they play better, they can take away the run and make people one-dimensional. It's consistency and playing at a level.

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