Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 13: Louisville
Coach: Charlie Strong (25-14 entering fourth season; 25-14 overall)
2012 record: 11-2 (5-2 in Big East, tied for first in Big East)
Look back: Louisville star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater vaulted the Cardinals onto the national stage. Louisville would start the year 9-0 before suffering a 45-26 loss at Syracuse and a 23-20 loss to Connecticut in triple overtime. The back-to-back losses put Louisville's run to a BCS bowl in jeopardy. Louisville faced Rutgers in the regular-season finale with the Big East's BCS bid on the line. Despite a broken left wrist and sprained right ankle, Bridgewater still managed to lift the Cardinals to a 20-17 win over the Scarlet Knights. It set up a showdown between Louisville and Florida. A combination of coach Charlie Strong's punishing defense and Bridgewater's steady play helped lift Louisville to a 33-23 win over then-No. 4 Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
During the offseason, Louisville grabbed two more victories. The school held on to Strong despite aggressive recruiting by other programs searching for new head coaches and it accepted an invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 10
Defensive starters lost: 1
Key losses: RB Jeremy Wright, WR Andrell Smith, LT Alex Kiupper, C Mario Benavides, LB Daniel Brown
Top returnees: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Senorise Perry, WR DeVante Parker, WR Damian Copeland, WR Eli Rogers, K John Wallace, LB Preston Brown, S Calvin Pryor, S Hakeem Smith
Strengths: Bridgewater is a Heisman Trophy candidate and could be one of the top picks in the 2014 NFL Draft. At 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds, Bridgewater has proven to be a playmaker who can make sound decisions under pressure. He ranked No. 8 nationally last season with a pass-efficiency rating of 160.5. Bridgewater completed 287 of 419 passes for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
He'll have arguably one of the deepest wide-receiver units of Strong's tenure at Louisville, with DeVante Parker (744 yards, 10 TDs) leading the group. Louisville already had a solid rushing threat in Senorise Petty, who had 739 yards and 11 touchdowns on 136 carries last season. However, the group could get a big boost if transfer Michael Dyer can return to his old form. Dyer was a talented running back at Auburn and MVP of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, but he ran into trouble with the law and was booted from two schools before eventually landing at Louisville.
The Cardinals should be strong on the defensive side of the ball. The team returns 10 starters, including 2012 leading tackler Preston Brown (109 tackles) at linebacker and Calvin Pryor (100 tackles) at safety.
Weaknesses: The offensive line struggled, at times, to protect Bridgewater last season. Louisville ranked No. 85 nationally in sacks allowed, giving up 2.4 per game. The job won't get any easier, with Bridgewater getting a lot of attention from opposing defensive lineups. The team also will have to replace veteran C Mario Benavides and LT Alex Kiupper.
The defensive line has plenty of room for improvement. The Cardinals ranked No. 100 nationally in tackles for a loss (4.5 per game), failing to consistently get into the backfield.
Outlook: Louisville will likely be favored to win every game on its schedule. The challenge Bridgewater and the Cardinals face is absorbing the best effort from every team they play.