The Year Ahead

Predictions about the upcoming college sports season are every bit as abundant as mosquito bites around this time of year, and in a lot of cases they’re just as annoying. The fact is that no one really knows what’s going to happen between the first days of fall and the last days of spring, but they also know that fans are going to forget each and every “wild” summer prediction the moment actual games start being played. It’s like a media hall pass.

With that being said, here’s my list of five things that ABSOLUTELY will happen during the 2014-15 Louisville athletics season.

1. Cardinal fans will have infinitely more fun than last year

This is a no-brainer. UofL fielded two of its all-time most talented teams in both football and men’s basketball a season ago, and yet the number of long-lasting memories between the two are few and far between.

As a Louisville fan, what memories from last season do you know are going to stick with you forever? Beating Florida International by 71? Winning three AAC Tournament games by 90 points? The Russell Athletic Bowl? Outside of Russ Smith’s game-winner at Cincinnati in February, there’s really just not much there.

Contrast that with a situation like 2009-10, where arguably the most forgettable Cardinal basketball team in recent memory took part in what will always be one of the most famous Louisville basketball games ever played: the win over No. 1 Syracuse in the last game at Freedom Hall.

UConn winning both hoops titles last season proved that you don’t need to play in an elite conference to claim your sport’s top prize, but playing in one of those top conferences does make things exponentially more fun. Look at Duke and Syracuse, who played perhaps the two most memorable games of the college basketball regular season, and then both failed to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

From now on for both Louisville football and basketball, there’s always going to be an opportunity for a major memory to be made in a couple of weeks or a handful of days. That’s going to be extremely refreshing and fun for everyone involved.

2. Terry Rozier is going to become a star

The best-kept secret on last year’s Louisville basketball team was that Terry Rozier might well have been the top NBA prospect on the roster. The secret’s starting to get out.

After showing his skills against some of the other top college players in the country at the adidas Nations camp this summer, the number of people predicting that Rozier’s increased role will vault him into the 2015 NBA Draft is large. In its most recent 2015 mock draft, NBADraft.net has the sophomore being selected by the New York Knicks with the 11th overall pick. Not bad for a kid who averaged just 7.0 points per game as a freshman.

Perhaps the biggest thing that Rozier has going for him is the one thing that Russ Smith never did: size. His 6’2, 190-pound frame and ability to glide to the basket and sky for rebounds reminds many a professional scout of Dwyane Wade. With Rozier being asked to shoulder the lion’s share of the massive scoring load left behind by Russdiculous, that skill set is going to be on full display from day one this season.

3. The rise in league competition will hit UofL baseball harder than any other program

Louisville baseball has more or less dominated conference play since Dan McDonnell arrived in 2007, but the ACC move is likely to change that.

From this point forward, the Cards will be competing against warmer-climate programs that are able to practice outside for longer portions of the calendar year and recruit in the most baseball-fertile areas of the country. The coaching, the talent and, most importantly, the pitching depth are all going to be infinitely better than what UofL is used to. The days of being able to have a bad weekend and still walk away with a 2-1 or 3-0 series win are gone, and they’re not coming back.

Fans are going to see the Cardinal baseball team pile up a few more losses this season than they’re used to, but because of the grind, McDonnell and company might be more of a threat to win the national title than they would have been otherwise.

4. The Louisville/Kentucky hoops rivalry will once again fail to receive its proper due

The major thing keeping the Louisville/Kentucky rivalry from seriously challenging Duke/North Carolina as college basketball’s headline rivalry (at least in the eyes of the majority of the sports world) has always been that the regular season meeting between the two takes place at a time when most of the of the country is still focused on football.

That fact was brutally apparent when it was recently announced that the Dec. 27 clash of Commonwealth titans would be played at 2 p.m. and televised by ESPN2. The reason the game isn’t being carried by CBS per usual? The ACC owns the television rights for Louisville games, and the league has a contract with ESPN. ESPN, meanwhile, has to schedule around the Pinstripe and Holiday bowls, which are being played the same day as the big game. The result is a timeslot and network designation that feels like a slap in the face to a rivalry game featuring a pair of programs that have combined for five Final Four appearances and two national championships over the past four seasons.

5. Louisville will stun Florida State on Oct. 30

Both UofL football and Bobby Petrino have been highly successful in “seize the moment” situations over the years. No moment will be bigger for either this year than when the preseason No. 1 and defending national champion Seminoles stroll into town on the day before Halloween.

Expect an unforgettable Thursday night that shocks the sports world, and don’t forget that you heard it here first…at least until some actual games start being played in two weeks.