The 2013 Sugar Bowl victory over Florida is a distant memory. While the win is a big part of the history of the program, the University of Louisville football team is ready to turn the page and gear up for the 2013 season, a year that could be just as magical.
The Cardinals will do that when they take the field for the start of spring practice on Wednesday, March 20. Louisville returns most of its starting lineup from last season's 11-2 squad, which won a second-straight BIG EAST title and upset third-ranked Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
After finishing in the top 25 for the third-straight year, the Cardinals are fortunate to return 12 starters on the defensive side of the football. The only starter that needs to be replaced is cornerback Adrian Bushell, who was a two-time BIG EAST all-conference performer. That position is one area that concerns defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, who begins his fourth season running the defense.
"We do have some depth for the first time, especially upfront," Bedford said. "We don't have that depth that we need in the secondary, especially at the cornerback position. We still are trying to build depth there, but I'm excited. The challenge is to keep the young guys from listening to all the outside things that they did in the past. What they did last season has nothing to do with what will happen this season."
One guy who can change the outlook in the secondary is junior Terell Floyd, the team leader in interceptions a year ago. A product of Fort Pierce, Fla., Floyd is one of the veterans in the secondary after playing in 25 career games. He made the play of the year when he intercepted Florida's Jeff Driskel and returned it for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the Sugar Bowl.
"Floyd needs to take another step," Bedford said. "As he gets older, the confidence factor will come. He is a young man. He has the physical tools that you look for. He has the size and the speed. He is a physical guy. He needs to gain confidence. If he gains that, he will be a big-time football player."
The offense lost three starters, including two on the offensive line in Mario Benavides and Alex Kupper. However, the Cardinals are loaded offensively with most of the skill players returning, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year.
Second-year offensive coordinator Shawn Watson pushed the offense to a new level last year, as the Cardinals averaged over 30 points a game and displayed an explosive passing game. Louisville scored 30 or more points in six games last season and averaged 418.8 yards of total offense.
"We have set a standard and an expectation on how we play," Watson said. "The good thing is that we have a lot of veterans back. The real cool thing is that they see the improvements that we have making. It's a really good place."
Big plays were a big part of the offense, led by junior wide receiver DeVante Parker, who caught 10 touchdown passes and averaged 18.6 yards per catch. A product of Ballard High School in Louisville, Parker caught 40 passes for 744 yards and registered eight touchdowns in his last six games.
"I think DeVante is ready to take the next step," Watson said. "I think he has improved as a route runner and you saw what he did with the ball in his hands last season. He was very exciting and I look forward to seeing his development."
Leading the offense will be one of the more-discussed names in college football in Teddy Bridgewater. The Miami, Fla., native threw for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns, but more importantly, he completed 68.5 percent of his throws and tossed just eight interceptions. He is considered one of the top players in the country, but Bridgewater, according to his coach, isn't focused on individual accomplishments.
"Teddy is all about the team," Watson said. "He is about his role with the team. Honestly, the Heisman hype and the future in the NFL isn't something he thinks about. Teddy isn't geared that way. He is different and that is why he has been such a good player and such a good student. He is always driven toward the team. Everything we want is out in front of us, but it's all about the team."
There is so much excitement around the 2013 football team, but the group understands what is out there for them. This season's chapter, which could prove to be even more exciting, begins on Aug. 31, when the Cardinals play host to Ohio.