Two years ago, when Brian Brohm was being hailed as the top high school quarterback in the country, he and his father, Oscar, attended practices at several high-profile colleges that were wooing him, including Notre Dame and Tennessee. Afterward Oscar, a former Louisville quarterback (Class of '69) whose two older sons, Greg ('92) and Jeff ('93), also had played for the Cardinals, spoke to Brian as objectively as he could. "You know," Oscar said, "Louisville's players are as good as any of those teams we visited."
What may have seemed like crazy talk at the time was validated last season, when Louisville went 11--1 and finished a school-record sixth in the final AP poll--higher than the Fighting Irish (unranked) and the Volunteers (No. 13). This year the Cardinals take another step up in prominence, moving from Conference USA to the BCS-affiliated Big East, and Brohm, who took Louisville's Trinity High to three straight state championships, will be the starting quarterback. He takes charge of an offense that led the country in points (49.8) and yards (539) per game in 2004 and promises to be just as powerful, with the return of running back Michael Bush (like Brohm, a former Kentucky Mr. Football), All-America tackle Travis Leffew and a deep receiving corps.
As a freshman last season Brohm backed up senior Stefan LeFors, who led the country in pass efficiency. Still, coach Bobby Petrino made sure Brohm saw plenty of action, inserting him into all but one game. The 6'4", 224-pound Brohm completed 67.3% of his passes and showed considerable poise for his age--most notably when LeFors went out with a concussion in the fourth quarter of a tight game against Miami. Playing in the hostile Orange Bowl in front of a national television audience, Brohm led his team to a go-ahead touchdown, completing all four passes on the scoring drive. (The Hurricanes came back to win 41--38.) "After the Miami game," said brother Jeff, "I realized he could pretty much do anything."
A onetime backup to Steve Young for the San Francisco 49ers, Jeff has more than a familial interest in Brian's development--he's also the Cardinals' quarterbacks coach. And Greg is the team's director of football operations. It's been a postgame tradition dating to Brian's junior high days for the brothers to get together afterward and pick apart Brian's performance. Now he hears it on a daily basis. "He can be a little hard on me because I'm his brother," Brian says of Jeff, "but he knows everything about me. He knows all the little details of my motion. It's great to have him in my corner." Louisville fans are saying the same thing about Brian. --S.M.
2004 RECORD 11--1 (8--0, 1st in C-USA)
FINAL AP RANK 6 RETURNING STARTERS 15
KEY RETURNEES (2004 stats)
QB Brian Brohm (Soph.) Conference USA Freshman of the Year
RB Michael Bush (Jr.) Gained 889 yards from scrimmage as backup
T Travis Leffew (Sr.) Started a school-record 38 straight games
K Arthur Carmody (Soph.) Hit all 77 extra-point tries, an NCAA record
Points per game scored by the Cardinals, who led the nation. They rang up 50 or more points in seven of their 12 games.
There's more than one running back named Bush who has Heisman-caliber skills. Much bigger than Reggie at USC, the 6'3", 250-pound Michael Bush is a bruising runner who as a sophomore backup in 2004 averaged 5.6 yards per carry and scored seven TDs. He was a record-setting quarterback at Louisville's Male High but shifted to running back after the Cardinals signed Brian Brohm.
Sept. 3 at Kentucky
17 OREGON STATE
24 at South Florida
Oct. 1 FLORIDA ATLANTIC
8 NORTH CAROLINA 15 at West Virginia 22 at Cincinnati
Nov. 3 PITTSBURGH
11 RUTGERS 26 SYRACUSE
Dec. 3 at Connecticut