Louisville made plenty of noise in the program’s first season in the ACC, with the Cardinals going 9-4 overall including 5-3 in conference play, good for third place in the Atlantic division. Bobby Petrino and company have followed up that strong season with a solid recruiting class that may get lost in the middle of the ACC pack.
247Sports ranks Louisville’s class as 35th in the nation and 7th best in the ACC, far from eye-popping, but certainly respectable.
Several players from the 2014 recruiting class are already contributors starting with 4-star quarterback Reggie Bonnafon. The mobile athlete was pressed into action when impressive sophomore Will Gardner ran into injuries this season. Bonnafon showed flashes of talent and put together some solid performances. He threw for 864 yards and five touchdowns and added 164 yards and five more touchdowns on the ground.
The ground game loses mercurial senior — and former Auburn Offensive Player of the 2011 national title game — Michael Dyer as well as Dominique Brown. The two combined for over 800 yards and nine touchdowns last season, but leading rusher Brandon Radcliff (737 yards 12 touchdowns) returns. The receiving corps also lost several members so there will be a number of openings for young players on an exciting offense.
The strength for Louisville was clearly on the defensive side of the ball last season where the Cards’ ranked 6th in the nation in total defense. That’s ahead of every ACC school except top-ranked Clemson. They lost some corners, but the linebackers are the key in the 3-4 scheme employed by Todd Grantham and they should be fine there.
With returning talent at key positions including healthy quarterbacks, Louisville looks to take a step forward this season in a fairly open ACC Atlantic race. There are a number of candidates to contribute quickly including a number of early enrollees.
Amonte Caban, Linebacker
- 4-star recruit
- 6’2″, 210 pounds
- Smiths Station, AL (Smiths Station Sch)
Caban has an impressive offer list that includes Oklahoma, Clemson and Mississippi State among many others. 247Sports rates Caban as the 11th best inside linebacker in the 2015 class and one of the top ten best talents in the state of Alabama. He needs to get bigger, but he has good speed and clear talent that has time to develop behind a strong returning defense up the middle. I could see Caban being a contributor on special teams right now, but asking for much more than that at this point seems unreasonable.
Caban committed to the Cardinals back in September and has a visit to Louisville scheduled for January 31.
James Allen, Running Back
- 4-star recruit
- 5’10”, 180 pounds
- Citra, FL (North Marion)
Allen is a little on the small side to be an every down back at this point. I tend to think running backs of this size and speed have a low ceiling. It’s just tough to sustain all the hits a first-string back receives. A good example of what a player of this size can be is J.C. Coleman of Virginia Tech. Small, speedy and surprisingly strong, he can be a valuable contributor to the offense in the right role. 247Sports ranks Allen as the 24th best running back in the country.
Jeremy Smith, Running Back
- 3-star recruit
- 6’1″, 225 pounds
- Hammond, LA (Hammond) / Fresno City College
Smith was lightly recruited out of high school in part because of his light weight. He used his freshman season at Fresno City College to pack on about twenty pounds without losing too much lateral quickness. He’s got the size now to compete at a power 5 conference and that drew the attention of major programs like Notre Dame and Alabama among others. Leading rusher Brandon Radcliff returns, but with Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown both graduating, both Smith (assuming he’s eligible come fall) and Allen will be able to compete for the No. 2 tailback spot with rising sophomore L.J. Scott. Louisville likes to run, so there will be plenty of carries to go around.
Emonee Spence, Wide Receiver
- 4-star recruit
- 6’2″, 180 pounds
- Hollywood, FL (Charles W Flanagan)
Emonee Spence decommitted from the Miami Hurricanes December 9 and made his verbal pledge to Louisville during his official visit there December 24. Louisville loses four of its top five receiving targets, which means they’ll be looking for reliable options in the passing game. Spence is a speedy wideout from Florida listed as a 4-star talent by ESPN. He catches the ball well and has tremendous athleticism, making him a versatile target and potential threat in the return game. After reopening his recruitment, Spence made his final decision between the Cardinals, Illinois, Central Florida and Mississippi State.
New home ! pic.twitter.com/udQYxWNziw
— 8⃣1⃣Emonee8⃣1⃣ (@Emonee_NikeMan) January 25, 2015
Paul Harris, Wide Receiver
- 3-star recruit
- 6’4″, 200 pounds
- Upper Marlboro, MD (Frederick Douglass) / Iowa Western Community College
Harris originally signed with Tennessee in 2013, but decided to transfer to Iowa Western Community College before choosing to continue his career with the Cardinals. He’s got the size and developed body to provide an instant impact for Bobby Petrino’s offense. He was a 4-star prospect when he enrolled early at Tennessee, but made just one catch for 15 yards in 2013 and struggled to transition to the SEC. He’s got the size needed to have an immediate impact, we’ll see if a year of JUCO ball was enough to refine his catching ability.
Louisville has really put together a nice class with this group if it all holds together. I don’t think it adequately addressed all the needs (corner and tight end in particular) of the program but it’s a talented group that provides depth at several spots. Say what you will about Bobby Petrino, but the man and his staff can recruit and are in a position to make huge waves in the ACC this season. Fewer than the nine wins of 2014 would be a disappointment, and not a completely unreasonable one. There’s enough talent returning and arriving that a run at the conference title seems quite possible. On the recruiting front the Cardinals have successfully battled a number of other ACC and even SEC schools to put this class together. Petrino and his staff have commitments from a number of players out of Florida including several high-profile wins against Miami. It’s clear that the Cardinals are ready for the challenge of recruiting strong in the southeast. Expect the early success to continue for years to come. Louisville is a major competitor in the new ACC.