When the Louisville Cardinals line up against the University of Miami on September 1, 2014 it will be exactly 11 years since Bobby Petrino led the Cards onto the field against Kentucky and defeated the Wildcats 40-24 in Lexington. It was his first game as a head coach and he endeared himself forever to Cardinal fans with a decisive victory and let Card fans know that he was the man for the job.
Petrino had made a name for himself as an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in the pros and at the college level and had been a key component as Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach on John L. Smith's staff in 1998 when UofL went from 1-10 in 1997 to 7-5 in their first year. On offense the Cards averaged 40 points per game compared to 22 the previous season. That was the most ever for a Cardinal football team to that point.
Petrino spent 20 years as an assistant coach and pay his dues before coming to Louisville the first time. Then In his first season as head coach, Petrino finished 9-4 and take Louisville to its sixth straight bowl game. That season was remarkable because Petrino arrived for spring practice prior to his first season the team had two lightly recruited quarterbacks and a top recruit at the position, Michael Bush.
In spring practice that year an unknown from Louisiana would beat out Justin Rascati with Bush competing in the fall. All Cardinal fans know that the QB (LeFors) some claimed was 'too' short and weak-armed would lead the team to 20 wins in two seasons and a Liberty Bowl win over highly-ranked Boise State in 2004. That season UofL would come within a dropped interception of defeating No. 3 Miami in Coral Gables with LeFors leaving the game with a concussion. Petrino developed LeFors into one of the top college quarterbacks in the country. In his second season under Petrino his efficiency rating was 181.74 with a 73.5 completion percentage, the highest in UofL history.
The parallels to this season are intriguing with the untested Will Gardner winning the starting position in the spring and the much-heralded Reggie Bonnafon coming into fall practice with a chance to beat out Gardner and take over the starting position. I don't expect that to happen but next spring will be interesting as the ineligible Tyler Ferguson, Bonnafon and Gardner battle for the starting spot.
One thing Cardinals fans know is that Bobby Petrino can develop quarterbacks.
With four or five good quarterbacks on the roster the Cards should be in good shape for many years to come.