Aug. 2, 2002
Stocked with a stubborn defense which returns 10 of 11 starters from one of the nation's top units and an offense featuring Heisman Trophy candidate Dave Ragone, the Louisville Cardinals are ranked No. 17 in the first USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll of the 2002 season.
The Cards, who finished the 2001 season ranked No. 16 in the final coaches' poll, ran their streak of top 25 national rankings to an unprecedented eight consecutive weeks. Head coach John L. Smith's squad received 378 points in the preseason poll of 61 coaches released Thursday night.
In the four years since Smith took over a 1-10 program, the Cards have posted a 34-15 record, claimed back-to-back Conference USA titles, and appeared in four consecutive bowl games, including a 28-10 thumping of BYU in the 2001 AXA Liberty Bowl.
While Ragone, a two-time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year who is tabbed by ESPN as "one of the nation's best," has received most of the Cards' preseason hype, it is the U of L defense which figures to carry much of the load for a team picked to win its third consecutive C-USA title.
Led by junior defensive end and reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Dewayne White and senior safeties Anthony Floyd and Curry Burns, a duo tabbed the nation's best safeties by the Sporting News, the Cards return virtually the entire starting cast from a unit which ranked No. 10 nationally, allowing just 17.79 points per game.
Additionally, junior kicker Nate Smith was named one of 30 preliminary candidates for the Lou Groza Award honoring the nation's top collegiate placekicker. Smith, a junior from Pleasure Ridge Park, was successful on 39-of-40 extra point attempts last season, while converting 13-of-18 field goal attempts. His career success rate of 72 percent ranks in the Top 10 all-time in C-USA.