LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Other than grayer hair and a few wrinkles, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino doesn't look much different from his first go-round with the Cardinals.
The 53-year-old quickly notes that he has changed in other ways. Humbled by an off-field incident resulting in his firing at Arkansas in April 2012, he understands that second chances don't come easy or often — particularly at the school where Petrino began his head coaching career.
"I'm very fortunate and very appreciative of (athletic director) Tom Jurich and Dr. (James) Ramsey in giving me this opportunity," Petrino said during last month's Atlantic Coast Conference media days. "I've certainly grown and changed throughout the years in things that I've experienced and things that I've caused myself. And I'm just fortunate to be able to continue in the sport that I love so much and to coach football."
One constant is Petrino's offensive expertise, which is why he's eager to begin his sequel with Louisville as it enters the Atlantic Coast Conference. Hired in January to replace Charlie Strong, Petrino wants to continue the Cardinals' success with the same high-powered philosophy that put them on the map.
"Our number one goal is to win a national championship," Petrino said Thursday at Louisville's kickoff luncheon. "That's something we're working on every day to try to achieve."
Petrino is 83-30 in nine seasons as a college coach, including 41-9 in his first stint with the Cardinals from 2003-06. Most encouraging for the Cardinals entering their new league is his 22-15 mark as a first-year coach.
He went 9-4 as a rookie coach with Louisville and 8-4 last fall at Western Kentucky. Petrino's only losing first season was 5-7 at Arkansas in 2008.
Most impressive about Petrino's lone season with the Hilltoppers was helping them achieve school records for FBS wins and offensive yards with 5,502. WKU's yardage total was just 489 fewer than Louisville, which returns with an offense featuring depth at wide receiver and running back and a presumptive starting QB in redshirt sophomore Will Gardner. Those factors have former Cardinals coach Howard Schnellenberger confident that Petrino can get off to a fast start the second time around.
"Based on past experience, to use an old saying, he's sitting in the catbird seat with the talent level he has there," Schnellenberger said. "He's older and wiser and I would think, more productive."
Here are five things to look for as Louisville begins a new chapter in the ACC and a second with Petrino:
WHERE THERE'S A WILL: Gardner is certainly aware of the expectations in following Bridgewater, but they're nothing compared to what Petrino expects of his quarterbacks — especially in workouts. "He does put a lot of pressure on you in practice, which is good because it'll make the game easier," said the 6-foot-5 Gardner, whom Petrino has praised for his quick grasp of the spread offense.
SEMINOLE SHOWDOWN: Louisville's Oct. 30 meeting with defending national champion Florida State is already being viewed as this season's marquee game in the ACC and certainly by the Cardinals. Other than their January 2013 Sugar Bowl upset of Florida, they've played few games this meaningful in recent years and definitely want to prove they belong in their new league.
CENTRAL RECEIVING: The return of top wideout DeVante Parker (885 yards, 12 TDs) for his senior season is big in terms of giving Louisville a speedy, deep threat. And once again Louisville is loaded with targets such as dependable senior Eli Rogers, speedsters Kai De La Cruz and James Quick and TE Gerald Christian.
NEW-LOOK DEFENSE: Not only is Louisville switching from a 4-3 base alignment to a 3-4, but the Cardinals must replace seven defensive starters. Some of the returnees will play new positions: Terell Floyd moves from cornerback to safety, while sacks leader Lorenzo Mauldin becomes a hybrid end/linebacker.
CARDS IN BLACK: The plan is for the Cardinals to wear all-black uniforms just for the Sept. 1 season opener against Miami to promote Louisville's ACC debut. But players are giddy about finally getting to wear them after being denied by former coach Charlie Strong, so don't be shocked to see them again.