1. Can one player claim the quarterback job and hold it?
In 2014, mostly due to injuries, Louisville had a revolving door behind center. Will Gardner (5-2 as starter, but lost due to a knee injury), Reggie Bonnafon (two rushing TDs in victory at Notre Dame) and ex-Lexington Catholic star Kyle Bolin (381 passing yards and three TDs vs. Kentucky) all had good moments. This year, you add Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson and true freshman Lamar Jackson, a four-star recruit out of Florida, to the mix. With so many QBs who have reason to feel like they should play, it will be fascinating to see how Louisville’s quarterback derby shakes out and what the ramifications are once it does.
2. Can James Quick fill the shoes of DeVante Parker?
Kentucky fans got an up-close look at the talent that led the Miami Dolphins to draft ex-Ballard High School star Parker 14th overall in round one when he caught six passes for 180 yards and three TDs against the Cats. With Parker gone, Louisville has an opening at “go-to” wideout. At 6-foot-1, ex-Trinity star Quick lacks the length of the 6-3 Parker. Yet as one of the most ardently recruited players to come out of Kentucky in recent years, Quick (36 catches, three TDs last year) was thought to have similar potential. This is the year he needs to show it. “We need consistency,” Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino said of Quick. “Consistency catching the ball with his hands, a better job running with the ball after the catch.”
3. Will big-name transfers allow Louisville to absorb a massive loss of talent to the NFL without “slipping back?”
Besides Parker, U of L had nine other players selected in the 2015 NFL draft. Conventional wisdom would say that Alabama can lose 10 NFL draft picks in one year and not feel it in the win/loss column — but Louisville cannot. Mitigating against that belief is the number of talented exiles from other programs on the Cardinals 2015 roster. Offensively, U of L adds a quarterback from Penn State (Tyler Ferguson) and wide receivers from Texas A&M (Ja’Quay Savage) and UAB (Jamari Staples). Defensively, the Cardinals gain a former star defensive end from TCU (Devonte Fields) and two ex-Georgia Bulldogs starters (hybrid safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and cornerback Shaq Wiggins).
4. Does the “Bobby Petrino Year Two upgrade” occur again?
In his prior two college head coaching stints, Petrino’s teams — especially his offenses — improved substantially from year one to year two. In Bobby P.’s first go-round at Louisville, his team went from 9-4 and 36.4 points a game (2003) to 11-1 and 49.8 in 2004. At Arkansas, Petrino’s first Hogs team (2008) went 5-7 and scored 21.9 points a contest. The following year, Arkansas improved to 8-5 and 36 points. In the first year of Petrino 2.0 at U of L, the Cardinals again went 9-4 and averaged 31.2 points last season. With quarterback uncertainty (see question one) and only two starters back on the offensive line, if Petrino again engineers his customary second-year uptick it might be his most impressive coaching job yet.
5. Can Louisville launch its season with a big early upset?
In its first three games, U of L has two chances to gain national acclaim. Petrino will put his career 10-0 record (5-0 against Kentucky) in season openers on the line against SEC power Auburn in Atlanta. After a potential trap game with Houston, the Cardinals’ third foe will be ACC favorite Clemson in a Thursday night affair in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. A victory over either Auburn or Clemson could turbo-charge U of L’s season.