CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 24 Louisville

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2011 record: 7-6 overall, 5-2 in Big East (1st-tie)

2011 postseason: Belk Bowl (31-24 loss to North Carolina State)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked

Head coach: Charlie Strong (14-13 overall, 14-12 in two seasons at Louisville)

Offensive coordinator: Shawn Watson (second season at Louisville, second as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 93rd rushing offense (121.5 ypg); 74th passing offense (211.5 ypg); 103rd total offense (333 ypg); 98th scoring offense (21.9 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinatorVance Bedford (third season at Louisville, third as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 10th rushing defense (100.5 ypg); 68th passing defense (227.4 ypg); 23rd total defense (327.9 ypg); 17th scoring defense (20.1 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Louisville, Ky.

Stadium: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (55,000; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2011 (co-champs with Cincinnati and West Virginia)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Every year I have a feeling that I’m rating a team way too low — see Auburn, 2010 — and this year the Cardinals are the team I simply, for whatever reason, couldn’t pull the trigger on a higher ranking and Will Likely regret it at season’s end. With 14 starters returning from a very youthful squad and West Virginia leaving for the Big 12, the ‘Ville is clearly the class of the Big East in 2012. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who started as a true freshman last season, is a superstar in training and in possession of a ceiling as high as any player at his position in the country. A defense that was well above average is expected to see nothing but improvement with seven returning starters.

The Bad
Two of the first three games of the new season are home contests against Kentucky and North Carolina, while road trips to defending Conference USA champ Southern Miss and Big East rival (for now) Pittsburgh as well as a home game against USF await in late September/mid-October. For a team as young as the Cardinals will be yet again, it could be a rough start to the season — or just the seasoning the squad needs to go back-to-back in the Big East.

The Unknown
Last season, West Virginia was the clear preseason front-runner in the Big East. This year, it’s Louisville. How that status as the hunted instead of the hunter is handled will be a fascinating dynamic to watch play out, especially, again, given the baby-faced makeup of the roster.

Make-or-break game: vs. USF, Oct. 20
I agree with the esteemed Phil Steele: USF should be the surprise team in the Big East and may loom as the Cardinals’ biggest obstacle to a conference title. The ‘Ville traveled to the Bulls and came out with a 10-point win in the regular-season finale that helped land the Cardinals a co-Big East title. Another win, this one at home, over the experienced Bulls would go a long ways toward securing another title.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
While 14 touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions doesn’t exactly scream Heisman candidate, there’s no denying the talent Bridgewater possesses and how much potential the sophomore has still yet to tap into.  Charlie Strong and his coaching staff did a masterful job easing the true freshman into his role as a first-year starter, never allowing Bridgewater to throw more than 30 passes in a single game until the Belk Bowl loss to North Carolina State that saw the ball in the air 43 times. This year, however, expect to see more — much more? — of the offensive load to shift to Bridgewater’s right arm, which as a result should lead to a vast statistical improvement.

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Georgia Tech promotes Brent Key from interim to head coach

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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Georgia Tech named interim coach Brent Key to the full-time position on Tuesday after he led the team to a 4-4 finish.

Key, 44, was in his fourth season as assistant head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach before Geoff Collins was fired on Sept. 26, two days after the Yellow Jackets lost 27-10 to Central Florida and dropped to 1-3.

Georgia Tech’s improvement under Key, who played for the Yellow Jackets and graduated in 2001, convinced Institute President Dr. Angel Cabrera and athletic director J Batt to make Key the full-time coach instead of looking outside the program for the hire.

“I am so proud and grateful to be the head coach at my alma mater, Georgia Tech,” Key said in a statement released by the school. “Like I’ve said many times over the past two months, I love this team, and I couldn’t be more excited to be their head coach. We will work unbelievably hard to make our fans, alumni and former players very proud of this program.”

Cabrera said Key’s history with Georgia Tech as a student, player and assistant coach was important.

“As an alum, he understands and cares deeply about this place and our extraordinary student-athletes,” Cabrera said. “He’s not only incredibly competitive but will do everything he can to make sure students grow as athletes, professionals and human beings.”

Georgia Tech had interest in Tulane coach Willie Fritz before choosing to promote Key.

“There was strong interest from across the country to be the next head coach at Georgia Tech, and we conducted an exhaustive national search,” Batt said. “At the beginning and end of the search, it was clear that the best choice for Georgia Tech is Brent Key.”

ESPN was first to report Georgia Tech had focused its search on Key.

Collins was 10-28 in his fourth season. When announcing the move with Collins, Georgia Tech also fired athletic director Todd Stansbury, who hired Collins. The school hired Batt, a former deputy athletic director at Alabama, as its athletic director on Oct. 14.

After Key was named interim coach, the Yellow Jackets beat two ranked teams, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, on the road. Georgia Tech finished 5-7 overall following Saturday’s 37-14 loss at No. 1 Georgia.

Even in the loss, Georgia Tech’s improvement showed. The Yellow Jackets trailed Georgia only 10-7 at halftime.

Key was Alabama’s offensive line coach from 2016-18 following 11 seasons at UCF. At UCF, Key coached under George O'Leary, who was his coach at Georgia Tech.

O’Leary said Georgia Tech made “a great decision” in promoting Key.

“I watched very closely this season as Brent took over and saw things move in the right direction,” O’Leary said. “It was clear that the team responded to the changes he made and played hard for him.”

Hugh Freeze asks Auburn fans for ‘chance to earn your trust’

Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
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AUBURN, Ala. – Hugh Freeze‘s checkered past in the Southeastern Conference means he’ll have to win more than just games. He’ll also have to win over Auburn fans.

Freeze’s return to the league more than five years after his scandal-plagued exit was greeted by considerable backlash on social media from wary fans. The former Mississippi and Liberty coach had to talk about his past during Tuesday’s introductory news conference as much as his belief that Auburn can make a quick turnaround, urging fans to “please give me a chance to earn your trust.”

“Give me some time. Get to know us. Get to know our family. Get to know the truth of our story,” Freeze said. “And I think the ones who have done that have said, `Man, you know what, I kinda like this guy and this family.’

“But that’s all you can ask is, man, give us a chance to earn your trust and I think you’ll like the end result.”

His message clearly resonated with athletic director John Cohen. Now he has to win over fans tired of embarrassments, including the failed 21-game tenure of former coach Bryan Harsin.

Auburn gave Freeze a six-year contract worth at least $6.5 million annually, making him the eighth-highest paid coach in the SEC. The buyout, if Freeze is fired without cause, would be 75% of his remaining contract.

Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in the summer of 2017 after school officials uncovered a “pattern of personal misconduct” starting with a call to a number used by an escort service from a university-issued cellphone. The program ultimately landed on NCAA probation for 21 violations of academic, booster and recruiting misconduct mostly under Freeze’s watch.

Still Cohen, who was at Mississippi State at the time, said Freeze was his top choice from the outset.

“Coach Freeze was completely transparent about his past transgressions,” Cohen said. “He showed remorse, and he’s had an accountability plan that he’s used for the last five-plus years.

“Everything he disclosed to us turned out to be accurate, after speaking with credible industry sources. In this way, Coach Freeze was honest and truthful.”

Freeze’s hiring was delayed after a former Liberty student emailed Auburn officials about a direct message the coach had sent her defending the Flames athletic director after she had made critical comments. The woman said she was sexually assaulted at Liberty and had reached a settlement, a case that pre-dated Freeze’s arrival.

Cohen did not take questions from reporters at the news conference and later declined to comment when asked about the direct message by The Associated Press.

Freeze has gone 103-47 on the field in 13 seasons at four programs, but 27 of those wins at Ole Miss were vacated because of NCAA violations. He spent the last four seasons at Liberty.

Freeze’s first move was to keep Carnell Williams on staff as running backs coach and associate head coach. Williams, a former Auburn All-America running back, was interim coach for the final four games.

He was a candidate for the head job, interviewing with Cohen about a week ago. Williams expressed his support of Freeze.

“I did have the opportunity to state my case, but look, that’s old news,” said Williams, who attended the news conference. “Like I told them whenever they brought me the news, honestly, they looked more disappointed than me. They were, `I’m sorry.’ But I’m like, I’m disappointed, (but) I’m not upset.”

Freeze isn’t the first high-profile coach with NCAA baggage that Auburn has hired. Bruce Pearl was hired while in the final months of a show-cause penalty stemming from violations that led to his ouster from Tennessee.

Pearl has turned the program into an SEC power, but not without more trouble.

Auburn self-imposed a postseason ban two years ago stemming from a bribery scheme involving former assistant coach Chuck Person. Pearl served a two-game suspension and players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were ruled ineligible for at least one season. Person later pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy charge.

Now, Freeze is getting his own second chance to change the script in the SEC.

“I don’t know if rewriting the story is exactly the right word,” he said. “But it’s going to make for a good ending.”