- Led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, Louisville comes in at No. 15 in SI's 2016 college football preseason Top 25 rankings.
Key returning starters: QB Lamar Jackson, WR Jamari Staples, WR James Quick
Sophomore Jackson is back after a promising freshman campaign in which Louisville won six of its last seven games, and with him, the Cardinals will bring back an experienced offensive line—although it did allow Jackson to be sacked 26 times a year ago. With that experience will need to come improvement as coach Bobby Petrino pushes his quarterback to improve his pocket presence and ability to read defenses—and to rely more heavily on the passing game.
Key returning starters: LB Devonte Fields, S Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB Trevon Young
Linebackers Keith Kelsey and Fields, Harvey-Clemons and defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown all weighed leaving early for the NFL last spring—and each chose to return for his senior season. That will figure big for Louisville’s havoc-wreaking defense, which made its name a season ago by creating 26 turnovers, and with nearly every key defender back, Todd Grantham’s unit should be as aggressive as ever.
Leader in rushing: Brandon Radcliff. The senior running back trailed only Jackson in rushing yards, with 634 to the quarterback’s 960, but as Jackson matures and the offense evolves to protect him, Radcliff should take the nod.
Leader in receiving: Staples. The UAB transfer senior led the Cardinals in receiving a year ago with 638 yards, despite battling injuries at the end of the season, and he should lead the unit again.
Leader in tackles: Fields. The senior had 10.5 sacks a season ago, the most on the team, and he’s in position to even lead the ACC in pummeling opposing quarterbacks this season.
Leader in interceptions: Junior Chucky Williams was tied for the team lead with three a season ago, and the safety an impressive spring.
Opposing coach's take
“If you’re going to win a championship, you’d better have a good quarterback. And they do in Lamar Jackson, one of 18 starters back from a year ago. He can throw it, and he can beat you with his feet. He’s dangerous because he creates so many issues for opposing defenses, especially when he gets out of the pocket. You’ve always got to account for him with an extra defender in the box, which puts even more pressure on your secondary. Bobby Petrino’s a great offensive coach, and while you may think he’s going to throw it all over the place, he’s got a very physical team, one that’s going to run the ball first.
They’ve got tons of athletes defensively. Their team speed is tremendous, and they’re very physical up front. Their secondary does a really good job in coverage and in taking away the easy-access throws. [Senior] safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is so big at 6' 5" that he looks like he should be lining up at end. Their defensive backs dare you to beat them one-on-one.
That’s just the nature of coordinator Todd Grantham. He’s an aggressive guy who likes to blitz. But it’s imperative that you don’t let his high-pressure tactics make you one-dimensional offensively. That’s what he wants.”
At 6' 4" and 242 pounds, senior outside linebacker Devonte Fields has been timed at 4.62 in the 40, which explains how the TCU transfer was able to collect 11 sacks and 22 1⁄2 tackles for loss last season. With added strength and a year under his belt in Todd Grantham’s defense, he’ll put up even more staggering numbers.
6: Wins in their final seven games of 2015, lifting them to 8–5.
3: Consecutive years the Cardinals have ranked in the Top 25 in total defense.
960: Rushing yards last season for Lamar Jackson as a freshman, breaking the school’s career record for a quarterback.
27: Minimum point total for Louisville in each of its final five games, raising its scoring average from 24.4 points to 28.7.
638: Receiving yards in ’15 for then junior Jamari Staples, a UAB transfer, which led the team.
|Sept. 9||at Syracuse|
|Sept. 17||Florida State|
|Sept. 24||at Marshall|
|Oct. 1||at Clemson|
|Oct. 22||NC State|
|Oct. 29||at Virginia|
|Nov. 5||at Boston College|
|Nov. 12||Wake Forest|
|Nov. 17||at Houston|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|