As the newest conference in college football, the American Athletic Conference (AAC) features an influx of new teams, as well as some of its more prominent members on the way out after this season. Although it remains one of the weakest conferences, there does arise one fundamental difference between its current state and its old title as the “Big East”: the AAC has a definite BCS contender in the Louisville Cardinals.
Bursting onto the national scene with a Sugar Bowl upset over Florida earlier this year, Louisville seems poised to build on their success. For starters, coach Charlie Strong is one of the best at his job, and perhaps the most passionate and effective leaders in college football. Much to Louisville’s relief, Strong declined enticing offers from other big-names schools, eventually settling on a lucrative extension. All what’s left is to watch Strong and his team in one of the most promising seasons in Louisville’s recent history.
Heisman hopeful Teddy Bridgewater, who appears as the most compelte quarterback heading into next year’s NFL Draft, leads the Cardinals on the field. Yet for the benefit of Bridgewater and the football program, it might be best to mostly put aside a race for an individual award like the Heisman Trophy: the exorbitant amount of publicity surrounding the “campaign” for the award will take focus away from happenings on the football field, and overall, only prove detrimental.
Nevertheless, Bridgewater is the unquestionable leader of a Louisville team looking to preserve their position among football’s elite. With a fantastic blend of arm strength and precision, Bridgewater also capitalized on a chance to legitimize his status as one of the best at his position in the country–in spite of Louisville schedule shortcomings. With his resolute showing against one of the best teams in the country last season in Florida–and on a BCS stage that earned him Sugar Bowl MVP–the Cardinal quarterback sent an impactful message to the rest of the college football world.
Yet as if there wasn’t anything else to offer in Louisville’s passing attack, the team returns its top three receivers for the 13′ season. Furthermore, the effect of transferring players does not just aid the Bridgewater and his receiving corps. While the Cardinals welcome a pair of SEC wideout transfers from Florida and Tennessee, and a tight end transferring from Florida as well, Michael Dyer arrives in the backfield. An offensive MVP in a national championship game that seemed ages ago, Dyer had entertained two 1,000-yard seasons at Auburn. And while he’s not immediately entitled to the starting running back job, he certainly adds a dimension to an already balanced Louisville offense.
The rest of the pack
The Cardinals will be counting the days until they move to the ACC, where will not be slighted–as they are this year–for their poor strength of schedule that does not include any Top 25 teams. But until then, the rest of the American Athletic Conference will seek to make a run at Louisville’s supremacy.
Rutgers– Gary Nova must become more consistent if he is to lead the Scarlet Knights in challenging Louisville. For now, he remains the best AAC quarterback not named Teddy Bridgewater. But as much as Nova’s performance will factor into Rutgers’ results, a dearth of rushing options will further mount the pressure on the quarterback’s shoulders. The defense may have its strong suits (the NFL draft caused the depletion in the secondary), but this is by no means a complete football team.
Cincinnati– Much like the case with Rutgers, trusted running back options are not at a premium here–and unfortunately, this deficiency can translate over and damage the efficiency of the passing game. While the quarterback situation is not entirely solved, first-year head coach Tommy Tuberville has two adequate options for the position. An unbalanced defense may hurt at times, but with a fairly easy schedule, the Bearcats could reach double-digit wins–and come closest to giving Louisville a scare.
UCF– Despite one of the newcomers in the conference, Central Florida will not hold anything back–especially not with its explosive offense. Averaging more than 35 points per game last year, the majority of the Knights offensive weapons are back. The questions lie in how well the mediocre defense will play, as well as how the team will react to one of the toughest schedules they have ever faced. UCF might have the capacity to make a mark on the AAC, but not one strong enough to threaten Louisville’s authority.
Questions for thought
If Louisville goes undefeated–which seems possible against a feeble set of opponents–is it enough to land a spot in the national title game?
Can the Rutgers’, Cincinnati’s, and UCF’s of the AAC count on Louisville to lose a few games to keep pace, or is a 10+ win season necessary?
How will the new level of pressure and higher bar of expectations affect Louisville?
Louisville at Cincinnati, December 5th