Georgia Bulldogs: Louisville Cardinals

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and his staff have the SEC pedigree. Now they are filling the roster with much of the same.

The Cardinals could potentially add a fourth SEC transfer to the mix. Safety Tray Matthews was dismissed from Georgia on Tuesday, then tweeted he would transfer to either Auburn or Louisville. If he chooses the Cards, he would join three former SEC players -- his old Georgia teammates Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons, and former Texas A&M receiver JaQuay Williams.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
AP Photo/John BazemoreTray Matthews, shown celebrating after an interception last September, tweeted that he's considering a transfer to Louisville after he was dismissed from the Bulldogs.
None of these moves comes as a huge surprise. All three Georgia players played for current Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. The decision to hire Grantham away from the Bulldogs clearly has paid off in more ways than one. His presence has helped bring Wiggins and Harvey-Clemons to the Louisville defensive backfield, an area with a major lack of depth.

Should Matthews enter the fold, Louisville would be in line to start nearly the same defensive backfield in 2015 that Georgia featured when all three players were healthy this past season.

That would be absolutely huge for a Louisville team making the transition into the ACC. Petrino has made foolish mistakes in his past, but he is not a fool when it comes to understanding what it takes to win -- especially on his side of the division.

Atlantic Division front-runners Florida State and Clemson are the only two ACC schools consistently recruiting at an SEC level on a consistent basis. To compete with them, Louisville must do the same. Accepting these transfers is one way to start closing the talent gap that currently exists between the programs. Williams, Wiggins, Harvey-Clemons and Matthews were all four-star recruits out of high school. The three Georgia players were ranked in the ESPN 300 and were dubbed the Bulldogs' defensive backfield of the future.

To understand how much catching up Louisville has to do, consider this: During the last five years, Louisville signed a combined 24 four-star players. Seven were ranked in the ESPN 300. Those are great numbers for the old Big East/American. But in the same span, Florida State signed 70 four-star and five-star players, and 55 were ranked in the ESPN 300. Clemson signed 55 four-star or five-star players, and 34 were ranked on the ESPN 300. It's easy to see why these two schools have separated from the rest.

As successful as Louisville was in its final years in the Big East/American, playing in a tougher conference means you need better players. Looking for transfers -- even transfers with baggage -- is one way to do that.

There are some risks involved. Harvey-Clemons and Matthews were both dismissed from Georgia. Though no specific details were given about Matthews' departure, Harvey-Clemons served multiple suspensions for team rules violations, including the 2013 Capital One Bowl.

Petrino was criticized during his first go-around with Louisville for bringing in players with discipline problems. Athletic director Tom Jurich told one reporter in 2008 that the Cardinals dismissed 21 players after Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons because of disciplinary issues.

So the track record is not sterling. But Petrino and Jurich have both vowed things would be different in the program this time. Given where Louisville stands as it heads into the ACC, Petrino has to be willing to take a few risks. At the same time, he also has to show he means business with the players who have been in trouble in the past. Second chances are one thing, but there needs to be a level of discipline in the program that was not there the first time Petrino was in charge.

None of the incoming players are eligible until 2015, when Petrino will have a much better idea of where his team stands in the ACC. If he can maximize their potential and keep them out of trouble, Louisville will be well on its way.
The state of Georgia is loaded in both the 2015 and 2016 classes.

In the 2015 class, the linebacker position is one of strength, as a number of rangy, athletic prospects -- highlighted by ESPN 300 prospects Adonis Thomas and Roquan Smith -- are available.

Five schools made the final cut on Thursday night for Thomas, one of the nation's top prospects.

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The state of Florida has always been known for producing some of the top athletes in the country. The term "athlete" is sometimes looked at as a negative term, but it really means our scouts believe these talented prospects could play more than one position in college. Here is a closer look at some of the top athletes from the Sunshine State in the 2015 class.

ESPN 300 athletes from Florida

No. 8 Torrance Gibson: Gibson is a skilled athlete who can make plays on offense. The five-star athlete led his high school, Plantation American Heritage, to the state championship game. In the game, he had a touchdown run of 80 yards and also a long touchdown pass that was among the "SportsCenter" Top 10 plays. He wants to play quarterback on the next level, but he’s the most talented wide receiver on his South Florida Express 7-on-7 team. Whatever position he chooses, Gibson has a bright future ahead of him.


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Grantham ready for a new challenge

February, 13, 2014
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Todd Grantham had his reasons.

When Georgia’s defensive coordinator left for the same position at Louisville, many outside the program were perplexed by the move.

To Grantham, though, it was as simple as an opportunity – he said he believes Louisville can win a national title as an ACC member. He pointed to the athletic administration’s support of the program and called Tom Jurich “one of the top ADs in the country.” He pointed to the success Bobby Petrino already has had at Louisville, and said, “in my mind, they were going to do it again, only this time work to do it better.” The chance for Grantham to hire his brother, Tony, from Navy, was important to him and his family. All of those things, he said, coupled with Louisville’s move to the ACC in time for the start of the College Football Playoff, lured him away from the SEC.

[+] EnlargeTodd Grantham
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsTodd Grantham sees Louisville as a national championship contender now that they're in the ACC.
“In reality, if you can win the ACC, your chances of being in that tournament are really good,” Grantham said. “The combination of all those things intrigued me, and it was something I felt like I wanted to try to do and I look forward to it.”

He’s also looking forward to the challenge he’ll get it in Year 1.

Grantham inherits a defense that loses seven starters, including five in the front seven, both safeties and the leading pass rusher from the 2013 season. Louisville has to replace linebacker Preston Brown (who led the team in tackles), defensive end Marcus Smith (second in the nation in sacks), and the stellar safety duo of Hakeem Smith (first-team All-American Athletic Conference) and Calvin Pryor (second in tackles).

“That’s part of coaching,” Grantham said. “That’s why it’s important to recruit and develop players. We’ll work with the players we have. Everyone is kind of new right now. Everyone will get a chance. We’ll evaluate everyone and give them a chance to compete for a starting job.”

Grantham compared it to when he arrived at Georgia, and everyone wanted to know how he was going to replace Justin Houston, who had left early for the NFL.

“The big topic then was we had nobody to rush the passer,” Grantham said. “Low and behold, a guy named Jarvis Jones comes along and has 28 sacks in two years and we’re all good again.”

Jones, who was drafted last spring in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers and still talks to Grantham on a regular basis, said Grantham would invite the defensive players to his house for a barbecue, and they’d go out to eat as a defense so everyone knew that it wasn’t “just about football.” Jones said he wasn’t surprised by Grantham’s decision to leave Georgia.

“There’s always opportunities,” Jones said. “He probably felt like his opportunity was better, or they put him in a better situation. You never know what’s going on, man. I know he loved the University of Georgia, he loved the guys he had there, but you never know why. I’m sure the guys there are going to love him. The fans at Louisville are going to love him. He brings so much energy to the game. The stuff he did for us at Georgia was great. He’s got that demeanor about him, and it shows. We had the top defense and coach Grantham and his staff was the reason why.”

As he did at Georgia, Grantham plans to change Louisville from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. With the exception of last season, when the Bulldogs were a young, injury-laden group and the scoring defense was ranked No. 79 in the country at 29 points per game, Georgia’s defense received high praise under Grantham during his four seasons as defensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Jones
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesFormer Georgia standout Jarvis Jones raves about playing for Todd Grantham.
Last year’s group still finished eighth in the country in tackles for loss and 28th in sacks. Grantham said he will continue to employ an attacking-style philosophy. He said that heading into last season, Georgia forced 62 turnovers in two years, second only to LSU (63), and that’s why they were able to get to the SEC title game twice.

He has the same plan in the ACC.

“We’re upgrading our schedule and going into a major conference, so we’re going to be playing some talented teams. Anytime the playing field becomes equal like that, your turnover ratio becomes a very critical stat. When you get the ball one more time than the other team, your chances of winning go up about 93 or 95 percent.”

More often than not, it worked.

In 2012, Georgia ended the season ranked 18th in the country in scoring defense, holding five opponents to 10 or fewer points, and finishing eighth nationally in pass defense. In his second season at Georgia, the defense finished fifth nationally in total defense, third in third-down defense, fifth in interceptions, and seventh in turnovers gained (32), which ranked first in the SEC.

“Coach Grantham had a tremendous impact on myself,” said former Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins, who said he was the first player Grantham recruited. “He pushed me to limits I never thought I could reach. He’s a coach who understands players. He’s not a coach who has one way. He knows how to adjust and evolve his coaching style to fit everybody. He’s a go-getter type coach. He allows you to express yourself on and off the field.

“They’re going to love him,” Jenkins said. “They’re going to love him. I believe that with my heart.”

ESPN.com's preseason power rankings

August, 9, 2013
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College Football Power Rankings illustrationESPN IllustrationTBD BY EDITORIAL


Not surprisingly, the back-to-back BCS champions are again preseason favorites and top ESPN's power rankings. But a number of elite programs are ready for their chance to dethrone the king.

Top 15 breakdown
No. 1 Alabama
No. 2 Ohio State
No. 3 Oregon
No. 4 Stanford
No. 5 Texas A&M
No. 6 (tie) Georgia
No. (tie) South Carolina
No. 8 Louisville
No. 9 Clemson
No. 10 Florida
No. 11 Florida State
No. 12 LSU
No. 13 Notre Dame
No. 14 (tie) Michigan
No. 14 (tie) Texas

Georgia’s recruiting momentum has grown so strong now that it is even sweeping up prospects committed to other schools. After landing five recruits in a span of seven days, the Bulldogs have not slowed down at all and now have another commitment.

Linebacker Detric Dukes (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) has dropped his commitment to Louisville and is now committed to Georgia.

"I committed to Georgia," Dukes said. "It has always been a program I wanted to go to because it is close to home, they have great tradition and great academics, so it was hard to turn down the offer to play for them. It feels great to be a Dawg and I am done with visits."

Dukes visited Athens last Saturday with his family and picked up an offer that afternoon. He waited until after work on Wednesday to call the Louisville coaches, and then he called Bulldogs coach Mark Richt with the good news. Dukes knew shortly after he left Athens that he wanted to be a Bulldog.

"I knew where I wanted to go, but this is a long process so I needed to sit down with my family and discuss my decision," Dukes said. "When I told my mom and dad that was my choice for the next four years, they were behind me 100 percent."


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Last November, in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAAAA state football playoffs, defending Class AAAAAA champion Loganville (Ga.) Grayson took on Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett. Coming into the game, all eyes were on defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1 prospect in the country. Nkemdiche was coming off back-to-back seasons with 18 sacks and has been widely regarded as one of the most talented high school players to ever suit up in Georgia.

The player tasked with trying to contain the 6-foot-5, 270-pound five-star recruit was a sophomore named Mitch Hyatt. While most would get overwhelmed with the thought of blocking Nkemdiche, Hyatt used the opportunity to have a coming out party.

“Going into that game I felt like I had nothing to lose so I was not nervous,” Hyatt said. “I just tried to play my game.”

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NORCROSS, Ga. -- ESPN 150 defensive end Lorenzo Carter seems to never stop grinning, even on the football field. His 100-megawatt smile calls to mind another affable defensive end, Michael Strahan, complete with the trademark gap. Even a shoving match with a teammate resulted in Carter falling down laughing about it later.

During the Norcross spring game on Friday, Carter and offensive tackle Horatio Walker tangled as they went at each other in the trenches. Walker held Carter’s jersey and was rewarded with a shot to the helmet.

“Well it was a run, and I don’t think Horatio respects me on the run yet, but it is all good,” Carter said between guffaws. “He tried to bully me around, but I was not having that so I had to hit him back. I was having fun out there.”


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ESPN 150 DT moves Dawgs up 

May, 20, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – ESPN 150 defensive tackle Elisha Shaw (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) spent the weekend visiting the University of Georgia and a former teammate. When he left, the nation’s No. 4 defensive tackle said that the Bulldogs no longer trailed the Crimson Tide.


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ATHENS, Ga. -- Offensive tackle Dyshon Sims (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes) awoke from a post-practice nap to find out that a longtime dreams of his had come true.

“I was actually sleeping around 9:30 when I got an alert on my phone from my Facebook account that I had gotten a message,” Sims said. “It was from the offensive line coach, Coach [Will] Friend. So I called him and he said they were offering me a full scholarship to come play at the University of Georgia.”

The 6-foot-4, 278-pound junior was taken aback.

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Q&A: ESPN 150 DT Shaw on new offers 

April, 24, 2013
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Elisha Shaw (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) already holds offers from Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and a handful of other big-time programs, so he wasn’t surprised to get a new offer on Monday.

He was surprised, however, that it came from Texas. The ESPN 150 defensive tackle met with Texas offensive line coach Stacy Searels on Monday and could look into checking out what the Longhorns have to offer this summer.


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BUFORD, Ga. -- ESPN Watch List defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) credits his blindingly pink socks and highlighter yellow shoelaces with helping him win the defensive lineman MVP award at the Atlanta NFTC on Saturday.

The award came with a brilliant gold dog tag that complemented his outfit. But what really caught Carter’s eye, and fashion sense, was the big gold box that he was handed that contained his invitation to The Opening.


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Watch List DT talks UGA, Bama, one more 

April, 15, 2013
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BUFORD, Ga. -- ESPN Watch List defensive tackle Elisha Shaw (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) attended the Atlanta NFTC on Saturday but could not compete due to leg injury. Instead, he watched the defensive lineman compete against the offensive linemen and yelled out instructions and criticisms to the delight -- and sometimes embarrassment -- of the other attendees.

Shaw might have been sidelined for the camp, but his recruitment is progressing full-speed. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound junior has double-digit offers, with Alabama and Georgia tied atop his list. Recently a new name has made a strong push.


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Finding the Future: Charlotte NFTC 

March, 25, 2013
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Editor's note: Finding the Future is a RecruitingNation feature that will appear throughout camps and combine season, ranking prospects strictly on their on-field performance at the particular event. It does not reflect where each will land when the class is ranked by ESPN.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There might have been as many BCS conference-caliber recruits in the 2015 and 2016 classes present at the NFTC Sunday than there were in the 2014 class. It looks like the next couple of classes in the Carolinas will be stocked with top-tier talent, and a few of them stood out on Sunday in the rain.

1. 2015 DT Albert Huggins

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ATHENS, Ga. -- For most high school players, the end of practice means they get a break from the incessant nagging and ceaseless instruction of their coaches. They go home, eat dinner, study and enjoy the respite until the whistles start blowing next time. For ESPN Watch List safety Quincy Wilson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School), that is not the case.

Wilson’s father is the defensive coordinator and the defensive backs coach at the University School, so Wilson jokes that he gets no respite.

“Oh no, there’s no break, there’s no break,” Wilson said. “Monday through Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Yeah, I get it at practice, before practice, after practice, in the car, at the dinner table ...”

The talented junior laughed about the nonstop instruction but he also credited his father with making him the player he is today -- one of the most coveted safeties in Florida.


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