ACC College Football Preview – Louisville Cardinals

Louisville Cardinals

With the 32nd pick of the NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected Lamar Jackson, ending an exciting era in Louisville Football History. The new era for Louisville begins with a warm welcome from the Alabama Crimson Tide at a neutral site game on September 1st. We expect things to get better from there, but it is nonetheless expected to be a challenging season for the Cardinals. Louisville was 8-5 overall last year, but only 5-8 against the spread.
This is very typical when a team has a star quarterback as lines get inflated. Expect the numbers to be more in line this year and for Louisville to have a better record against the number.
Louisville returns seven starters on offense, including all three receivers and most of the offensive line. Jackson’s successor will be Jawon Pass. Pass is a redshirt sophomore who has good size at 6’5” and a strong arm, but lacks experience. He can also run a little. Head Coach Bobby Petrino is known to be good with Quarterbacks so we expect Pass to show some signs of talent. He will benefit from a speedy receiving trio that combined for over 2,200 yards and 20 receiving touchdowns. Leading receiver Jaylen Smith had 980 receiving yards last season despite missing three games. Jawon Pass will need to avoid turnovers, as his predecessor turned the ball over 13 times last season.

The ground game will be led by Sophomore Dae Williams who averaged 6.2 yards per carry in limited touches last season. With Lamar Jackson running for over 1,600 yards there were not a lot of opportunities for other backs, but under the new scheme, Williams should get plenty of touches and is expected to be effective. He will run behind a line that returns 4 of 5 starters from last season.

Overall, despite the loss of Jackson, we expect Louisville to continue to perform offensively. They scored an average of 38.1 points per game last season. Even if the number is down a bit, it will still be enough offensive to win games.

On the defensive side of the ball, Louisville lacks experience. With only 4 starters returning and a new defensive coordinator, there may be some growing pains. Brian VanGorder moves over from Oklahoma State. He has had a long career with a variety of schools including Notre Dame and Georgia. He also spent time in the NFL with the Jaguars, Falcons and Jets. He is known as a guy that teaches aggressive defense to cause turnovers and many of his personnel have been drafted through the years. However, with three new starters in the Secondary and three new starters on the line, we expect Louisville will give up its fair share of points, especially early on in the season.

The total season wins line for Louisville is 7 and the odds to win the ACC is currently +2000. We think the win total is spot on and would not recommend a play either way. Although the 20-1 on winning the conference is enticing for a team that does have a bit of talent, being in the Atlantic Division of the ACC means Clemson would have to be a major disappointment for Louisville to make the Conference Championship game, even if everything fell right for the Cardinals. We do expect Louisville to be a bit of an over team for at least the early part of the season. Although Alabama’s Defense will be a challenge in Week 1, the rest of the first month of the season should feature significant points being scored.

Louisville is currently a 25 point underdog to start the season against national champion Alabama. This is a big number considering Alabama has only three starters returning on Defense. However, Nick Saban is always adept at reloading, so chances are that the unit will be good despite the lack of experience. Alabama’s offense is also expected to be even more dynamic than usual with National Championship Game hero Tua Tagovailoa leading the offense. If Juwan Pass struggles in his first start, the game could very well be a blowout. However, if Pass plays well and sufficiently utilizes his weapons at Wide Receiver, the game may be closer than expected. Too many question marks for us to offer a confident opinion in this opening game. However, it will be a good gauge of things to come for both squads.

Louisville draws Indiana State from the FCS in Week 2. Indiana State was 0-11 last season and there will likely not be a betting line for Week 2. Louisville will cruise in this spot and work out any kinks that arise in Week 1.

In Week 3 Louisville draws Western Kentucky from Conference USA. Western Kentucky was a disappointing 6-7 last season after winning their conference the prior two seasons. They lost Head Coach Jeff Brohm at the end of the 2016 Season as he headed to Purdue in the Big Ten. Current Head Coach Mike Sanford is quite capable and was previously a Defensive Coordinator at Notre Dame. Unfortunately, he loses last year’s starting Quarterback Mike White who was drafted in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys. This year’s starter Drew Eckels had only 11 pass attempts last season, so there is a significant lack of experience on offense. In addition, Western Kentucky loses two of its top three receivers. Although we expect Louisville to have an edge here the line may be too high. Also, traditionally a lot of times the lesser known in-state schools exceed expectations against in-state more heralded programs. We will await publication of the line for this game, but if Western Kentucky is given significant amounts of points, we would lead toward taking them in this spot.

Louisville commences ACC play in Week 4 with a road game at Virginia. Louisville covered the spread with a 17 point home win against Virginia last season, but had a major scare two years ago on the road. In that game Louisville was 33 point favorite and needed late game heroics to escape with a 7 point victory. We are not particularly high on Virginia, despite being at home in this spot. Virginia was 6-7 last season and was beaten by double digits in five of its last six games. With the memory of 2016 still reasonably fresh and Pass having three starts under his belt, expect Louisville to play well in this spot. We will provide subscriber updates when the line gets published, but we will look at Louisville a potential play in Week 4.

Louisville closes out the first month of the season with a challenging home game against Florida State. Florida State was 9-3 last season and 6-2 in the ACC. Although FSU had many starters graduate, the program is consistently replacing graduates with speed and talent. There are high hopes with First Year Head Coach Willie Taggart and FSU also returns Cam Akers who had over 1,000 rushing yards as a Freshman in 2017. Taggart runs an up-tempo spread offense that worked well at Oregon and should flourish in Tallahassee. We expect this game to be a shootout and will keep an eye on a potential over play if the line is right.

Pete Rinato