What to Expect When You’re Expecting
When Chan Gailey was the Head Coach at Georgia Tech, fans would pass by him and ask “How many games do you think we’re going to win this year, coach?”. Coach Gailey would give a simple answer, “All of them.”, because if the coach thought they were going to lose, then what was the point of playing the game?
Charlotte will face their toughest opponent they’ve ever faced on September 1st in Louisville. Gone are the days of traveling to the state of Kentucky to play Morehead State, a non-scholarship Pioneer League program which has given the 49ers two of their victories. Instead the 49ers will travel to the Commonwealth to face a preseason Top 25 Cardinals (19th/AP) squad.
Louisville return 18 starters from last season’s 8-5 (5-3 ACC) Music City Bowl Championship season. The offense returns 10 starters, but it is an offense that was up and down during the course of the season. The Cardinals rushing game ran for 300+ yards in the final two games of the season, but had 70 or less in four other contests.
On the passing side, the Cards used multiple quarterbacks like Charlotte, but that’s where the differences end. Both Kyle Bolin and Lamar Jackson had their highs and lows but both are quality quarterbacks. Going into 2016, Jackson is locked in as the starter. From his slow start last season in Atlanta against Auburn as a Freshman, Jackson has improved as many expected.
The defensive side of the ball has the star power for Louisville. Defensive Tackle, DeAngelo Brown and linebackers, Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields are All-Preseason ACC Team. Fields will likely be one of the best players the 49ers have ever faced.
However, there are two pieces of good news for the 49ers.
First, this is a young program that has gotten better each season and 2016 should be no different. The 49ers return 16 starters of their own, 5 of which were red-shirt sophomores or younger. Depth continues to grow as only 3 second string players were lost to graduation. The quarterback position from last season appears to have been handled with the addition of Kevin Olsen. Kalif Phillips is healthy and true freshman, Robert Washington should be an absolute stud.
Second, Louisville has at times played to the level of competition. Out of the 13 games played last season, only five were by more than a touchdown. While the Cardinals only lost by a field goal to National Title runner-up, Clemson and Peach Bowl Champion, Houston, they also only managed only a one point win over Wake Forest (3-9 Overall, 1-7 ACC), a three point win over Boston College (3-9 Overall, 0-8 ACC), and a seven point win over Virginia (4-8 Overall, 3-5 ACC). While the Cardinals finished 4-2 in the Atlantic division, they only outscored their division opponents by a combined five points.
So what to expect? As a fan, a quality opponent and a welcome to the big time as the 49ers start their first official bowl eligible season. But it’s a safe bet the coaching staff expecting to travel back 1-0.