How much can a pile of transfers change a program’s immediate future? Not just a handful or a dozen. More than the nine or 10 former Power Five players that sparked Marshall’s physicality last season.
A pile. Dozens. So much of a roster that it is hard to convey.
The headlines are focused on that situation in Colorado, a certain high-profile coach amplifying and boasting about his roster turnover, not quite literally all of the Buffaloes but closer to that than not. Some look to Arizona State, which if not for Deion Sanders’s attention mongering would be the leader in the proverbial clubhouse in turning over a roster in a coach’s first year this past offseason.
But do not overlook Louisville. Former Cardinals quarterback and now new head coach Jeff Brohm has pulled in nearly 30 transfers along with 16 freshmen. Do that quick math and, yep, that’s half of Louisville’s roster.
The difference between the Buffaloes or the Sun Devils and the Cardinals is that Louisville was decent last season. The Cardinals went 8-5, including going 6-2 to close the season. For comparison, Colorado was 1-11 last year while Arizona State went 3-9. Sanders and Kenny Dillingham took over rosters from coaches fired with clear reason. Brohm inherited one from a coach who made a lateral move.
Yet, dozens of transfers.
Why? Well, for one thing, Brohm will play a different brand of football than Scott Satterfield employed at Louisville. For another, he needs the players. To start with, Satterfield did not fill his maximum of 85 scholarships. On top of that, only 13 starters return.
Will those dozens of transfers create positive change?
Cardinals star quarterback Malik Cunningham is a piece of the past. Delving into his dual-threat delights serves no purpose. But keep in mind, Cunningham’s dynamic abilities (12 rushing touchdowns) helped propel Louisville to its mild success last year.
For as prolific as Brohm’s offenses tend to be, dual-threat quarterbacks are not part of them. Louisville’s offense will look drastically different this season. Hence, in part, all the transfers.
“All the transfers” include six offensive linemen and four receivers. The latter group has a better chance of contributing; finding quality offensive linemen in the transfer portal is a rather tall ask. Few of them are there, and they generally come from predictable programs (read: Stanford). No offense to Duquesne, Rutgers, Purdue or Houston, but the Cardinals’ filling its offensive line room with their products does not inspire confidence.
And, frankly, neither does pulling in quarterback Jack Plummer from Cal.
The default analysis has assumed reuniting Plummer with Brohm will yield great rewards. The two found some success in three seasons together at Purdue before Plummer transferred to Cal. Emphasis on some.
The Boilermakers were 5-9 from 2019 to 2021 when Plummer threw at least 19 passes. Yes, he has thrown 47 career touchdowns compared to only 19 interceptions, but he has also averaged only 6.9 yards per pass attempt in his career. There were reasons Plummer transferred from Purdue; those reasons did not all go away in a year in the Bay Area.
the receiver was the RB Ott, who is lightning fast, with a linebacker on him.
probably a touchdown with a better throw
— Alex Simon (@AlexSimonSports) September 17, 2022
Yet, Plummer, some misfit offensive linemen and unproven receivers are supposed to run Brohm’s offense without a hiccup.
It is a unique offense in how much it hinges on the pass. Consider Purdue in Brohm’s six years there.
And now consider Louisville last season:
28.3 pass attempts per game, No. 97 in the country; 7.3 yards per pass attempt, No. 69 in the country; No. 97 team passer rating in the country.
Purdue threw the ball more often than nearly anyone else in the country, but it had only middling success doing so for the majority of Brohm’s six-year tenure. Meanwhile, Louisville preferred to run the ball lat season and with good reason, its passing game was suspect.
Has Brohm imported enough pieces to change that offensive approach without stumbling? Logic doubts that.
The transfers will be needed defensively, too. Both starting edge rushers heard their names called in the NFL draft, as did Louisville’s best cornerback, and the Cardinals’ two leading tacklers are gone.
Six of Louisville’s top-seven tacklers for loss are elsewhere by now.
This defense will need to rely on new pieces, just like the offense. Those pieces are at least a bit better known, led by two North Carolina transfer defensive backs in cornerback Storm Duck and safety Cam Kelly, as well as a Georgia transfer cornerback, Marcus Washington, and a Stanford edge rusher, Stephon Herron.
But still, how many of those players would have transferred if things were going well for them? Duck has long drawn praise, but for just as long, he has struggled to stay on the field. Herron, though, could be a quality headache for opposing offensive coordinators, having managed 5.5 sacks last season. In general, outgoing Stanford transfers may have been looking for competent football teams more than new starts.
Detecting skepticism here? It hasn’t been very subtle.
How to square it with Louisville standing third in the odds to win the ACC? That’s all about the schedule.
The Cardinals dodge all of No. 8 Florida State, No. 9 Clemson and No. 21 North Carolina, the ACC’s only ranked teams. Facing No. 13 Notre Dame will not impact Louisville’s conference championship chances. Hosting both Virginia Tech and Virginia will, but only in an encouraging way.
Look beyond the blessings of the schedule and the Cardinals’ true ACC standing comes into focus. Per current SP+ ratings, Louisville’s power rating falls behind five total ACC teams and is effectively tied with another. The Cardinals visit North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Miami. Falling to two of those, as well as the Irish, would push Louisville close to another eight-win season.
And yes, Notre Dame should beat the Cardinals. If they were to play at Louisville next week, the Irish would be favored by about 7.5 points. That number will almost assuredly change by Oct. 7, but it could widen if Brohm’s offensive renovation does not fit with Satterfield’s leftovers.
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