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Thursday afternoon Cardinal news and notes

Go Louisville, beat Kentucky.

—Spread check (TaxSlayer Bowl): Louisville by 7.

—Louisville hopes its big men are up to the task tomorrow afternoon in Lexington.

—Eric Wood is an awesome dude.

—Twenty-four hours.

—The vast majority of local and national media members are taking Kentucky to win a close one over Louisville. Though the final scores are almost all tight, 40 of the 47 media members polled like the Cats.

—The upheaval at Mississippi State actually presents some additional challenges for Louisville.

"It will be a little weird or different trying to understand because the play-callers on both sides of the ball have changed," Petrino said. "We always sit there talking about, 'That's what Todd did,' but he's not there now."

Todd is Todd Grantham, Louisville's former defensive coordinator who served in the same capacity at Mississippi State this season. The Cardinals know the defense the Bulldogs played throughout the regular season because Grantham utilized the same system at both schools, but Grantham left Mississippi State for Florida with Mullen.

Louisville still has an advantage because current Cardinals defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon was at Mississippi State last season.

"I think Coach Sirmon will understand their players and their talents and what they do, and then also Mississippi State will understand what (Sirmon's) package is and what he did there," Petrino said. "But these games are about the players."

Sirmon still will have a tough test even without Fitzgerald in the backfield.

"(Thompson has) handled it well. He's prepared. He's going through it," Knox said of Thompson. "As you watch him perform in practice, he's getting better and better. That's coming with the more amount of reps he's getting every day. He's getting the full load. There's no Nick Fitzgerald right now, so he's getting the full load of it.

"As you watch him develop, he's getting better and better every day. The more we practice, the better he gets."

—U of L men’s soccer standouts Tim Kubel and Mo Thiaw have both been invited to the MLS Player Combine.

—Kyle Tucker gives us an inside look at the main storylines surrounding the Kentucky basketball team heading into Friday’s game.

—Yahoo serves up a quick profile of each league as we head into conference play.

2. ACC

Preseason pick to win the league title: Duke

Current pick to win the league title: Duke

Projected NCAA tournament teams: 9 (Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Miami, Louisville, Notre Dame, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State)

Three conference player of the year candidates: Marvin Bagley, F, Duke; Bonzie Colson, F, Notre Dame; Joel Berry, G, North Carolina

Biggest surprise: Despite the departure of star Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson so far appears to be a much stronger team, especially on the defensive end. The Tigers (11-1) have defeated Florida, Ohio State and South Carolina and ride a seven-game win streak into conference play.

Biggest disappointment: An anemic offense made worse by season-opening suspensions to Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson has derailed Georgia Tech. Expected to contend for an NCAA bid, the Yellow Jackets are instead off to a 5-6 start that includes losses to Grambling, Wright State and Wofford.

Coach under the most pressure: Brad Brownell, Clemson

Outlook: A prolific offense headlined by Marvin Bagley and Grayson Allen makes Duke the favorite to win the ACC, but the Blue Devils must get better defensively. They’ve looked vulnerable against the best teams they’ve faced this season because they’re often out of position on pick and roll defense and slow to rotate in the paint or close out on shooters. If defense proves to be Duke’s undoing, Virginia and North Carolina appear best positioned to take advantage. The Cavaliers once again boast the nation’s best defense along with a favorable schedule that includes only one game apiece against Duke, North Carolina, Miami and Notre Dame. North Carolina’s strength is a deep backcourt that surrounds rapidly improving inside-outside threat Luke Maye.

—How high is the ceiling for Donovan Mitchell? Chris Paul says “He controls it. He’s that good.”

—Major congrats to Jeff Brohm and company on a 7-6 first season at Purdue that ended with a bowl win over Arizona last night. The Brohm Squad remains undefeated in bowl games.

—Also, it turns out Purdue QB and Kentucky native Elijah Sindelar played four games, including last night’s, with a torn ACL. Hashtag, football guy.

—John Clay lays out what we do know and what we don’t know about the Kentucky Wildcats heading into the team’s annual rivalry game with Louisville.

▪ Can Hamidou Diallo shoot? That was the question entering the season and I’m still not sure we have a clear-cut answer. Against Virginia Tech, when the redshirt freshman drained four of seven three-point attempts, the answer was yes. Against UCLA, when Diallo was 1-of-5, the answer was no.

▪ Can PJ Washington be a consistent presence? An engaged Washington shows why Rivals ranked him the 15th-best prospect in the Class of 2018. At times, however, the 6-7 forward all but disappears. Five times he’s scored in double figures; six times he has not. Only once has he scored in double figures in back-to-back games.

—Dana O’Neil’s “The Commonwealth’s great divide” piece from five years ago is always a solid read on rivalry week.

—U of L women’s basketball standout Sam Fuehring endured evictions and the deaths of close family members, and now plays with unapologetic emotion.

—My guy Pantelis continues to go national.

—SEC Country says he had to go, but the rivalry is sure going to miss Rick Pitino.

—John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader lists five things Kentucky fans should know about Louisville.

—An all-time moment for sure.

—Jacksonville natives De'Asian Richardson and Drew Bailey are thrilled to be playing a bowl game in their hometown.

—When you run into fellow Cardinal fans on your way to Jacksonville, you take a picture with them.

That’s the law around here.

—This is a really interesting, and refreshing, read on how France brought romance back to American football.

—Your feel-good video of the day.

—The city of Louisville appears on 27 best-of lists for 2017.

—As major conference play kicks off in college basketball, here are 10 things we’ve learned from the season’s first month and a half.

—Jaylen Smith says Lamar Jackson should be the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

—Lamar isn’t going to be giving Justin Thomas problems on Tour any time soon.

—Even though he’s not coaching in the game, Todd Grantham’s impact will be all over the TaxSlayer Bowl.

“I think there’s knowledge on both sides,” Petrino said in a bowl conference call Dec. 3. “I think that Coach Sirmon will understand their players and their talents and what they do, and then also Mississippi State will understand what (Sirmon’s) package is and what he did there. But these games are about the players.”

Grantham will not coach Saturday. He is busy preparing his next defense at Florida, where Mullen hired him as defensive coordinator when he took the head coaching job in Gainesville after the regular season.

Fast, physical and aggressive will be his goals, as they were at Mississippi State. Grantham said his first order of business with his defense is to stop the run. He did that this season, when the Bulldogs improved from 70th to 23rd in rushing defense.

“Then, after that, how do you make the quarterback play bad?” Grantham said. In 2016, his defense at Louisville forced three interceptions from Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and a 7-for-18 day from Florida State’s Deondre Francois. His three defenses at Louisville intercepted 58 passes.

His unit at Mississippi State was even better against the pass, ranking 13th in the country. Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald told reporters after facing Grantham’s defense in practice, “I hate that man. That’s one of the craziest defenses I think I’ve ever gone against.”

—If you re-did the 2017 NBA Draft, Donovan Mitchell would go a lot higher today.

—The Herald-Leader has a preview podcast for tomorrow’s game.

—Not bad company here.

—The biggest improvement for the Louisville football team during its current three-game winning streak obviously came on the defensive side of the ball.

—Billy Reed says that playing experience should outweigh coaching experience in this year’s Battle for the Bluegrass.

—On today’s R&R I am going to go full War of the Worlds and announce at 4:05 that John Higgins is doing the game tomorrow. I guarantee at least a couple Cat fans listening in freak the f—ck out. You can listen here.

—And finally, beat Kentucky.