The heat and humidity of summer is beginning to set in, which can only mean one thing…it's football season! Actually, more accurately, football trash-talking season! Sure, many in the Bluegrass State consider this time of year basketball recruiting season, while some others focus their attention on Major League Baseball, but with each passing year since the revival of the ‘Battle of the Bluegrass' between Louisville and Kentucky, the summer months have become the time for fans of the Cards and Cats to do their best spinning and "discussing" the merits of the two teams with opposing fans.
So, while the fans do give their all to "convince" the fans of the opposing team, Rob Gidel of InsideKentucky.com and yours truly from InsidetheVille.com, will give our all to give you the facts so that you can have even better ammo. (Okay, so they will be the facts as we see them in our own eyes…mine tinted red, while Rob's are tinted blue.)
It's early still, so let's start with the preseason magazines and the so-called expert predictions.
These so-called experts have started throwing praise at the Louisville football program from all angels. CBS Sportsline's Dennis Dodd ranked the Cardinals higher than the others at 11th in his Post-Spring Top 25 poll, which he released in early May. Most others rank U of L in the mid-20's in their preseason polls.
Sound familiar? It should.
The praise being tossed around reminds many of the hype surrounding the 2002 edition of Louisville football. That squad was seeing predictions of a possible undefeated season, top ten ranking and an outside shot a BCS Bowl.
Then the season-opener against Kentucky arrived and the Wildcats went on to upset the ranked Cardinals in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and quickly put an end to all of the preseason hoopla.
So, is there anything different this time around or will UK once again enter Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and bring a quick halt to all the preseason hype?
Well, while the first chapter of the story may be oddly similar, the rest is vastly different.
The 2004 Cardinals return 17 starters, including most of their offense, which finished the 2003 season ranked 5th in the nation in total offense. Among those returning are quarterback Stefan LeFors, running backs Lionel Gates and Eric Shelton, receivers J.R. Russell and Joshua Tinch. The offensive line, which surrendered just 13 sacks last fall, is made up of Renardo Foster (6'5, 327), Travis Leffew (6'4, 297), Jason Spitz (6'4, 308), Kurt Quarterman (6'5, 365) and Will Rabatin (6'1, 304). It is a very experienced group and one of the most talented lines in Louisville football history. Tight end is the only spot with little experience with sophomore Wayne Riles and possibly true freshman Scott Kuhn receiving most of the snaps. Let's not forget Michael Bush either. Bush has nearly fully recovered from his broken left foot he suffered on the first day of spring practice, is expected to continue to see action in the U of L backfield and will likely line up at receiver for a few snaps as well.
Defensively, the Cardinals expect to be improved. (I know what you're thinking…"well, they can't get any worse.") Last fall, U of L gave up a whopping 428-yards per outing, so you're probably right, they can't get any worse. With most starters returning from a team that was full of youth and inexperience last year the Cardinals are poised for decent improvement in all areas this fall. Among those returning are defensive end Marcus Jones, who registered 17 tackles for a loss in 2003, linebacker Robert McCune, who led the team with 143 stops and safety Kerry Rhodes, who recorded three interceptions last fall. However, one major addition to the Louisville defense was the hiring of new defensive coordinator Mike Cassity. Cassity, who employs a more aggressive form of defense than was seen a season ago, has a squad that now has plenty of game time experience. Oh yeah, once again, let's not forget Michael Bush. Bush will likely play a role in a much-improved Cardinal secondary as a reserve safety.
Additionally, U of L head coach Bobby Petrino and staff are bringing in a very talented group of freshmen, including a few that may see action during their first year as a member of the Cardinal football program.
So, while the upset of 2002 is still fresh in the minds of many fans and in many instances resembles the buildup of the 2004 season, ‘on paper' there are vast differences in experience and talent.
In short, don't expect a rerun of 2002.
In the coming weeks building up to the 2004 season, Rob Gidel and I will continue to provide evaluations from the ‘other side,' including positional breakdowns, effects on recruiting and more.
Inside Kentucky's Rob Gidel's take on the game:
Click HERE for Rob's Wildcat Rebuttal