1). How will Louisville handle the "step up in class" of an ACC schedule?
U of L will face three teams in 2014 — defending national champion Florida State, at Clemson and at Notre Dame — that will be ranked in everyone's preseason top 25. In 2013, the average RPI (yes, they have that for football, too) at the end of the seasons of Louisville's eight American Athletic Conference foes was 77.4. The eight ACC teams U of L will face in 2014 had an average RPI of 57.4. That's not an SEC-caliber schedule but it is a big leap from what Louisville has faced in recent seasons.
2). Can Bobby Petrino "go home" again?
If you didn't mind the coach's constant flirtations with other jobs, Petrino's first stint at Louisville (41-9 from 2003-06) was a rousing success. However, the records of prior coaches who have returned to scenes of their past glory as college head men is decidedly mixed. Bill Walsh went 17-7 in his first stop (1977-78) at Stanford, but had two losing seasons in three years (1992-94) the second time around. John Robinson was 67-14-2 at USC from 1976-82, but "only" 37-21-2 (1993-97) in his second shot with the Trojans. Johnny Majors won a national title and went 33-13-1 in four seasons (1973-76) at Pittsburgh, but was 12-32 in four years after returning in 1993. Conversely, Mike Riley went 8-14 at Oregon State in 1997 and 1998. But after three losing years as head coach of the San Diego Chargers, Riley returned to OSU and has led the Beavers to eight winning seasons in 11 years.
3.) How does Louisville replace Teddy Bridgewater?
There's no certainty U of L will ever have another quarterback who made the impact Bridgewater did. In only three seasons, the Miami product produced 27 wins as a starting QB, led the Cardinals to back-to-back bowl wins over Florida and Miami (Fla.), respectively, and became an NFL first-round draft choice (32nd pick, to Minnesota). Presumptive heir Will Gardner, a redshirt sophomore from Douglas, Ga., has thrown only 12 passes (completing eight) in his college career. But the 6-foot-5 pocket passer should benefit from Petrino's considerable offensive acumen.
4.) How smoothly will Louisville transition from Charlie Strong's 4-3 defense to the 3-4?
New Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was hired off of Mark Richt's staff at Georgia. After the Bulldogs gave up almost 30 points a game last season while going 8-5, there was not exactly wailing in Athens over Grantham's departure. The longtime NFL assistant is a 3-4 devotee but is inheriting a Louisville roster mostly recruited to run a four-man front. Regardless of scheme, Grantham's biggest challenge is to find replacements for departed safety standouts Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith.
5.) How does U of L replace three first-round NFL Draft picks?
In addition to Bridgewater, safety Pryor went 18th in the 2014 draft to the New York Jets, while pass rushing specialist Marcus Smith went 26th to Philadelphia.
An Alabama may be able to absorb the loss of three first-round talents without appreciable impact on the bottom line but it's hard to envision Louisville losing that kind of talent without feeling it.
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.