A bloated opening salvo to the 2014 College Football Season comes to an end this Labor Day, as the Miami Hurricanes travel to Louisville to face the Cardinals. Both of these teams are experiencing a good degree of turnover, particularly under center where each will feature a new starter making their collegiate debut. Of course, even though Louisville has finally joined the ACC, it’s not as if these programs are any stranger to one another; The Cardinals dominated the Canes in last December’s Russell Athletic Bowl (36-9), outgaining them by a ridiculous 380 yards.
For Miami, Al Golden enters his fourth season at Coral Gables, leading the program through the lingering specter of an NCAA investigation and a slew of self-imposed sanctions; the Hurricanes were just 6-6 back in 2011, improved to 7-5 in 2012, and amassed a 9-4 record in 201, their best since 2009. With the cloud of controversy in the rear-view mirror, he can now properly rebuild this program, and that success will hinge on the arm of a true freshman Quarterback, Brad Kaaya, just the second to start the opener for Miami since 1979. Saying that Golden has a situation under center may be an understatement; after starting Quarterback Stephen Morris departed to the NFL, his backup Ryan Williams was tabbed to start, but tore his ACL early in the Spring, leaving highly touted redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen in place to make his debut until he was promptly suspended for off the field conduct. So with Golden down to his third choice, Kansas transfer Jake Heaps and Kaaya battled it out through the Spring, with the latter emerging as the starter… for now.
Thankfully, the kid should have plenty of help on the offensive side of the ball, particularly in the backfield where Duke Johnson could be primed for a Heisman campaign. The junior Tailback thrived in Miami’s fast-paced offense, rushing for 920 yards and six touchdowns in just eight games before breaking his ankle and missing the remainder of the season. Fellow rusher Dallas Crawford should also figure into the bruising ‘Back rushed for 558 yards and was a fixture in the Red Zone, where he plowed in for a dozen scores. On the perimeter, sophomore Receiver Stacy Coley looks to build on a solid debut campaign in which he hauled in 33 catches for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. However, the Hurricanes will have to get it together on the defensive side of the ball if they truly wish to return to their glory days; Miami’s defense allowed 426.4 yards per game last season, including a porous 176.5 on the ground. Golden’s transition to a 3-4 scheme has experienced it’s share of growing pains, but with a number of seasoned veterans returning such as Denzel Perryman, Tracy Howard, and Anthony Chickillo, 2014 could be the year that this unit breaks through.
Meanwhile, everything that is old is new again at Louisville, as former Head Coach Bobby Petrino returns to the place where he became such a hot commodity years ago. If you’re an avid College Football fan, than you should be familiar with Petrino’s story; after a highly successful four-year stint at Louisville, he accepted the Atlanta Falcons job where he promptly lasted just thirteen games before taking the reins at Arkansas, where he rebuilt a downtrodden program, yet was unceremoniously fired after an inappropriate affair with an assistant following a motorcycle accident. Petrino spent the last two seasons at Western Kentucky, where he guided the Hilltoppers to back-to-back 8-4 campaigns. Say what you want about the guy, but he is a very effective coach; in his previous four-year reign at Louisville he amassed a 41-9 record, including four straight Bowl Games, with a 24-13 victory over Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl chief among them.
Fortunately for Petrino, his predecessor did not leave the cupboard bare. Yes, sensational Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (and his 29-8 record as a starter) is off to the NFL, but there is a great deal of talent remaining on both sides of the ball. The Cardinals are particularly deep at Receiver, which is significant since Devante Parker will miss the first six to eight weeks rehabbing a broken foot. Parker led the Receiving Corps with 55 receptions for 885 yards and a dozen touchdowns last season, including nine for 142 yards and a score against the Hurricanes in the aforementioned Athletic Bowl. Look for Eli Rogers to fill the void, for the senior Receiver brings stability to the position with 44 catches for 536 yards and four touchdowns last year. Tailbacks Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer should bring balance to an offense that averaged 146.8 yards per game on the ground in 2013. It remains unseen how sophomore Quarterback Will Gardner will utilize these pieces; Bridgewater’s backup attempted a mere twelve passes last season, completing eight for 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns.