Editor’s note: This is the third of a 12-part series previewing Virginia’s 2014 opponents.
With the end of the Teddy Bridgewater era comes the continuation of the Bobby Petrino era.
Louisville isn’t exactly entering the ACC quietly.
In 2014, the Cardinals won’t be short on storylines. There’s the challenge of replacing their record-setting quarterback, there’s the headline-grabbing hire of a controversial coach and there’s the task of continuing their recent winning ways in a new league.
From 2010-13, Louisville went 37-15, appearing in four bowl games and winning three of them, including a memorable 33-23 takedown of Florida in the ‘13 Sugar Bowl.
The man in charge of the Cardinals was Charlie Strong. The one behind center was Bridgewater.
That combination was lethal for U of L.
But now both individuals are gone.
On Jan. 1, Bridgewater announced he would be entering the NFL Draft, foregoing his senior season. Four days later, Strong became the 29th head coach in University of Texas history. Four days after that, Louisville shockingly brought back Petrino.
From 2003-06, Petrino had the Cardinals rolling, winning 41 of 50 games, including an Orange Bowl victory and No. 5 final ranking in 2006.
But shortly thereafter, Petrino bolted to the Atlanta Falcons, a stint that lasted all of 13 games before he returned to the college ranks at Arkansas.
Like he did with the Cardinals, Petrino had the Razorbacks thriving. After a 5-7 2008, Arkansas appeared in three straight high-profile bowl games — Liberty, Sugar, Cotton.
As has been well-documented, Petrino was then fired in April 2012 following a motorcycle accident that helped reveal the adulterous relationship he was having with Jessica Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyball player Petrino hired to assist the football program.
Petrino eventually returned to coaching last season, guiding Western Kentucky to an 8-4 record.
He was back at Louisville on Jan. 9.
“If it was the same Bobby that was here 10 years [ago], I wasn't interested,” Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich told The Associated Press on the day of Petrino’s hire. “He is definitely a changed person.”
Added Petrino: “I made mistakes, both professionally and personally. That’s something I’m not going to do again. ... My first mistake was leaving here.”
Petrino might not have Bridgewater, a first round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, to play with, but he’s still got his signature coaching style.
Always offensive-minded, Petrino had Will Gardner, the leading candidate to replace Bridgewater, throw 37 times in the spring game. Gardner, a sophomore and former prep standout in Georgia, completed 32 of those tosses for an eye-popping 542 yards and four touchdowns.
“We had good pass protection and guys getting wide open,” Gardner said afterward, “and when guys are wide open, you can’t miss them.”
DeVante Parker is one of those “guys.” The 6-foot-3, 208-pound senior receiver is coming off a 55-catch, 885-yard, 12-touchdown season. In the spring game, Parker was good for 10 grabs and 109 yards.
In other words, Louisville’s offense should be fine in 2014.
The defense, however, must replace seven starters. Senior defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin will lead the effort after his 9.5-sack 2013.
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Coach: Bobby Petrino (Second stint at Louisville; 41-9 from 2003-06)
2013 record: 12-1 (Won Russell Athletic Bowl)
Sept. 1 Miami
Sept. 6 Murray State
Sept. 13 at Virginia
Sept. 20 at Florida International
Sept. 27 Wake Forest
Oct. 3 at Syracuse
Oct. 11 at Clemson
Oct. 18 N.C. State
Oct. 30 Florida State
Nov. 8 at Boston College
Nov. 22 at Notre Dame
Nov. 29 Kentucky
Offensive players to watch (2013 stats): QB Will Gardner (112 yards, two touchdowns, 67 percent complete); WR DeVante Parker (55 catches, 885 yards, 12 touchdowns); RB Dominique Brown (163 carries, 825 yards, eight touchdowns)
Defensive players to watch: DE Lorenzo Mauldin (40 tackles, 12 for loss, 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles); LB James Burgess (72 tackles, nine for loss, sack, interception); CB Terrell Floyd (47 tackles, two for loss, four interceptions, forced fumble)