2020 season: 4-7, 3-7 in the ACC (12th in the ACC)
Head coach: Scott Satterfield (3rd season)
After going 8-5 in 2019 and helping first-year head coach Scott Satterfield to eventual ACC Coach of the Year honors, Louisville crashed back down to earth in 2020 with a frustrating 4-7 campaign. But even with a fair bit of roster turnover, the Cardinals have the tools to play some good football once again this fall.
First and foremost, Louisville had one serious issue last season: turnovers. The Cardinals turned the ball over a mind-boggling 24 times in 11 contests, a figure good for fourth-most in the nation. For all the explosive weapons on Louisville’s 2020 roster—including starting quarterback Malik Cunningham, who led the team with 15 turnovers—the offense was disappointingly anemic, largely due to this team-wide incapacity to hang on to the ball. If the team hopes for success in the upcoming campaign, ball security simply has to be the priority.
With the dynamic Cunningham at the helm, however, the Cardinals offense certainly has the potential to be exciting. The receiving corps has taken a hit with the loss of wideout Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick, but players like Braden Smith and Georgia Southern transfer Shai Wertz—who played quarterback at his previous stop—should be ready to shoulder the load sufficiently.
Above all, though, the fate of Louisville’s offense this season will depend on Cunningham’s growth at the quarterback position, or lack thereof. The redshirt junior clearly has the playmaking ability that every team wants in their signal caller, but he undeniably needs to take a step forward to help his team reach their potential.
If the offense was disappointing for the Cardinals in 2020, the defense was a welcome surprise. Anchored by an impressive linebacking corps and a steady secondary, Louisville’s less glamorous unit more than held their own, and despite some heavy losses in the secondary and uncertainty down in the trenches, the Cardinals should field a respectable defense yet again this fall.
The ACC’s Atlantic Division might not be exactly wide open—Clemson hasn’t relinquished the top spot since 2014—but there’s plenty of room for Louisville to move up into the division’s top tier. Satterfield’s squad has a winnable slate ahead of them in 2021: if the defense holds, the offense figures things out and Cunningham becomes the star he so clearly can be, Louisville’s fall outlook could be brighter than most expect.
Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.