Two months ago, the ACC gathered for its annual media kickoff of the 2016 season and all focus was upon the usual suspects, Clemson and Florida State. Deshaun Watson this, Dalvin Cook that, lets share another Jimbo and Dabo stat. Louisville wasn't completely ignored, but the Cardinals were an afterthought for the conference crown. Following four weeks of football, Louisville is not just the story of the ACC, this program is the focus of the entire nation. It was Christmas in July for the Cardinals as the media gifted Coach Petrino and Lamar Jackson all the motivation they would need. The dark horse and underdog labels are gone, all eyes have turned to Louisville.
Rewind to that last week of July and enjoy Monday morning quarterbacking. Clemson received 148 of a possible 191 first place votes for the Atlantic Division, FSU garnered 42 and the Cardinals secured one vote. The same number of votes were cast for overall conference champion, Clemson was picked first by 144 people, FSU by 39, seven believed in UNC, and a lone voter stood for the Cardinals. Of those same voters, 164 believed Deshaun Watson to be the best player in the ACC, while 18 held stock in Dalvin Cook. Lamar Jackson finished in a tie for fourth receiving two votes. To make matters worse, not one Cardinal offensive player was selected for the pre-season first team All-ACC, yet Devonte Fields and DeAngelo Brown were selected on defense. Jackson's performance thus far is astonishing and arguably unexpected, but the clues and signs were everywhere that this kid had potential to be a game changer. Watson was the sure bet which is understandable to us horse folk, but Brad Kaaya, Mitch Trubisky, and Elijah Hood were picked as superiors or equal to Lamarvelous.
Anyone want to vote again?
75% of the season remains, however, to misfire so badly on evaluating Louisville's talent is a pleasant reminder that we should continue allowing "experts" to blow all the hot air they want, Cardinals just walk the walk.
Saturday night's primetime showdown between Clemson and Louisville is must see television. A pre-season Heisman favorite against the current runaway winner. Mr. Bring Your Own Guts versus Mr. Unstoppable Offense, GameDay, Death Valley, three versus five, all with the ACC Atlantic Division on the line. The Cardinals already hold the 6th most watched game of 2016 and Saturday night may be the highest viewed matchup of the year. Lamarvelous/Lamarkable/Action Jackson/number eight has spent four weeks infuriating Webster because there are no words left to describe his capabilities. Louisville has made its opening statement, but as the clock strikes midnight on Saturday, the Cardinals will deliver a closing argument unrivaled since the era of Jackie Chiles.
If Coach Petrino's band of undervalued and overlooked juggernauts emerge victorious Saturday, the repercussions are truly unfathomable. Lamar Jackson will have secured the Heisman Trophy, let that sink in. A win against Clemson will give Louisville Football its first Heisman Trophy Winner. The award celebrates its 81st birthday this year, yet, only 39 schools can claim a winner. LSU only has one, while Alabama, Miami, Georgia, and Texas possess just two. Lamar's chances are still phenomenal even if Louisville loses due to the fact he has singlehandedly accounted for more touchdowns than any team in football (25), but a wins against Clemson and Florida State will seal the deal.
Heisman aside, beating Clemson would all but lock up the Atlantic Division. The Cardinals would have to lose two of their remaining five games against Duke, NC State, Virginia, and Boston College. These five teams are a combined 11-8 and only Virginia has faced a top 25 opponent. The Cardinals would also boast the best resume in the country, likely moving them to the number one ranking, which would be a program first, and Louisville would be favorites to make the College Football Playoff.
The stakes could not be higher, the opportunity could not be greater, but this is the moment each of us has waited for.
A gut feeling did not exist before the Florida State destruction, only anxiety. However, preparations and analysis of Clemson forge a different path. The Tigers have not lined up across from a top 25 team, their opponents have a combined record of 8-7, and they've only encountered Lamar Jackson as an 18 year for two plays totaling 23 yards. No one should put all their stock in recruiting services, but Clemson hasn't had a class ranked higher than Florida State over the last four years. If Action Jackson can make the Seminoles look slow with their head spinning, he should be able to hold his own against the Tigers.
Also, Clemson hasn't exactly had their way with the Cardinals. In 2014, Louisville travelled to Clemson and lost 23-17. The Cardinals had three different players attempt a pass, outgained the Tigers offensively, and even possessed the ball for almost 10 more minutes. Deshaun Watson did go down with an injury early in the game, but had it not been for a punt return for a touchdown and a spiked football on the one yard line, Louisville would have emerged victorious. Last season, Louisville got an in-home visit from Deshaun Watson and Dabo Swinney before they marched onto a national title game appearance. Clemson was the better team, but Watson's stat line of 21/30 for 199 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions was very pedestrian. The Cardinals had the ball for a game winning drive and just missed a field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Anything can happen Saturday night, but the Cardinals are more than due against the Tigers.
For the second time in three weeks, Louisville will be the focus of the football universe. The Cardinals have never had a chance to capture an opportunity equivalent to what's at stake in Saturday's showdown. 2016 has been history in the making, the fireworks have returned, and Coach Petrino finally has his team. 82,000 fanatics will have their attention drawn to midfield come eight o'clock Saturday to witness firsthand what Lamar will do next. Millions more around the country will have their faces glued to their televisions and tablets. All eyes are upon Louisville now, these Cardinals are ready for center stage.
All Hail UofL !!