All right, let’s kick this off with the annual disclaimer.
I learned a long time ago that making game predictions on the team-specific sports website you run is a no-win game. You either pick the team you're a fan of to win, or you anger your readers (who will come back and gloat when your prediction is wrong as if you didn't want the team you're a fan of to win). I don't like making people angry and I don't like being disingenuous, so usually I either refrain from predictions or only make them when I truly believe Louisville is going to win.
Along the same lines, season-long college football predictions made before the season starts are also worthless. Far too little is known and far too much has yet to happen for anyone to have any real grasp on what might take place in a November tilt between a pair of teams that have yet to take the field.
And yet, this is 12th time in 12 years that I've written this post, and it still never fails to elicit the same types of reactions. Take, for example, last year, when I predicted a 9-3 regular season for the mighty Cardinals.
Always a good time. And yet we’re going to do this again.
In the spirit of full disclosure, here are my year-by-year prediction results, beginning all the way back in 2006:
2006: PREDICTED: 11-1; ACTUAL: 11-1
2007: PREDICTED: 11-1; ACTUAL: 6-6
2008: PREDICTED: 6-6; ACTUAL: 5-7
2009: PREDICTED: 4-8; ACTUAL: 4-8
2010: PREDICTED: 5-7; ACTUAL: 6-6
2011: PREDICTED: 6-6; ACTUAL: 7-5
2012: PREDICTED: 10-2; ACTUAL: 10-2
2013: PREDICTED: 11-1; ACTUAL: 11-1
2014: PREDICTED: 9-3; ACTUAL: 9-3
2015: PREDICTED: 9-3; ACTUAL: 7-5
2016: PREDICTED: 9-3; ACTUAL: 9-3
So six times in 11 years I’ve hit the final record directly on the head, and only twice have I been off by more than one game (thanks, Krag). The actual losses that have been predicted are typically way off, but whatever, don’t steal my shine.
Let’s run through the 2017 season and then get mad.
GAME ONE: vs. Purdue
Power conference programs with exciting new head coaches are always a little dangerous in these situations. They’ve been put through the ringer all spring and summer, they genuinely believe that they’re going to be the start of a change, and they’re desperate for the opportunity to play against someone other than themselves. It’s sort of like when Rick Pitino’s first Louisville team got a complete culture overhaul and then came out on opening night and forced South Alabama into like a billion turnovers.
Fortunately for Louisville, there are no Reece Gaines-caliber players on this Purdue team. Jeff Brohm will eventually make everyone glad this game was played in 2017 and not 2020.
CC Prediction: Louisville 48, Purdue 20
GAME TWO: At North Carolina
Even in years where I nail Louisville’s final record, there’s typically a game I pick the Cardinals to lose that they wind up winning by 50 or so. A few years ago it was Syracuse, last year it was NC State, this year it might be North Carolina.
History shows that there’s a funky loss coming somewhere this season, even with a pretty traversable schedule. I can’t bring myself to peg that loss as coming against Wake Forest or Kentucky, so here we go.
Sure, UNC lost a lot from last year, especially at the quarterback spot, but this is still a program that has probably recruited better under Larry Fedora than any ACC team outside of Clemson, Florida State and Miami. There’s too much talent here not to be at least a little worried. Maybe Brandon Harris thrives away from the pressure that came with being the starting quarterback at LSU. Maybe Louisville gets caught looking ahead to Clemson. Maybe the ghost of me spilling a giant bourbon and coke at halftime and ruining the second half of everyone’s game experience at Kenan Stadium in 2011 haunts us again.
I don’t know, but I need this prediction to not be true. I need a 2-0 Louisville team hosting Clemson on Sept. 16. I need that day of unsullied fun and excitement.
I feel worse about this than you do.
CC Prediction: North Carolina 34, Louisville 33
GAME THREE: vs. Clemson
If I’m wrong about the North Carolina pick (which I most likely will be), then this game sets up exactly the way Florida State did a year ago. A highly-regarded team with a first-year quarterback waltzing into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for a wild week three environment.
It’s not going to get out of hand the way it did a year ago, but for the first time in four years, Louisville won’t need one play to take down the ACC juggernaut from South Carolina.
CC Prediction: Louisville 38, Clemson 27
GAME FOUR: vs. Kent State
I will be in a wedding for a couple who is very happy that this game fell on this date.
Pad those stats for the Heisman voters.
CC Prediction: Louisville 56, Kent State 13
GAME FIVE: vs. Murray State
Stay healthy. Get ready for the short week ahead.
CC Prediction: Louisville 63, Murray State 6
GAME SIX: At NC State
Thursday night road games on a short week of rest have been an absolute nightmare for Louisville historically, especially under Petrino. The most recent example, of course, is last year’s debacle at Houston that crushed U of L’s national championship hopes for good and sparked the three-game losing streak that the season ended on.
Adding to the danger here is that NC State is so strong up front on defense. If the Louisville offensive line hasn’t shown improvement by this point in the season, then it’s going to be in for a long night in Raleigh.
The Pack is going to be sporting all black unis and they’ve had this game circled since the 2017 schedule came out. I do not like this setup at all. Then again, there’s six weeks and a lot of football between now and then.
CC Prediction: NC State 27, Louisville 21
GAME SEVEN: vs. Boston College
Landry is terrific and the offense has a chance to be ever so slightly improved, but I don’t think this is the year Boston College has something for us. It won’t be as bad as last year in Chestnut Hill, but it’ll be close.
CC Prediction: Louisville 50, Boston College 14
GAME EIGHT: At Florida State
If Louisville is 7-0 and rolling down to Tallahassee, then obviously this is a very different game than the one we’re staring at here. Regardless of what happens in the preceding month and a half, there’s one pregame storyline that’s going to be a certainty here: FSU is going to be out for blood after letting U of L score more points against them last year than any team ever had before. There’s also a very real chance that if the ‘Noles have already stumbled against Alabama in the season-opener that they’ll be playing for their playoff lives in this game.
This is the one loss that I think everyone but the most optimistic Louisville fan has pegged.
CC Prediction: Florida State 38, Louisville 24
GAME NINE: At Wake Forest
The perfect bounce-back opponent comes in the form of the new rival nobody wanted. Petrino will score 80 in this game if possible.
CC Prediction: Louisville 48, Wake Forest 23
GAME TEN: vs. Virginia
Virginia has been widely-regarded as the worst team in the ACC ever since Louisville joined the conference in 2014. That hasn’t stopped the Cavaliers from giving the Cardinals absolute fits.
First, there was the upset loss in Charlottesville in year one that was supposed to mark the turning point of the Mike London era. Then there was London trying to save his job and nearly doing so with a second upset of the Cards at PJCS in 2015. Last year, UVA again pushed Louisville to the brink, forcing Lamar Jackson to find Jaylen Smith with a TD pass in the closing seconds to keep U of L’s CFP dreams alive.
I have no idea how or why Virginia has given Louisville such fits the last three years, but until it happens, predicting a monster blowout seems unwise.
CC Prediction: Louisville 30, Virginia 20
GAME ELEVEN: vs. Syracuse
Teams with terrible defenses but great offenses should always scare you more than teams with the opposite issue, and that’s exactly what Syracuse figures to be in 2017. They’ll score points, and they’ll force Louisville to execute and not make mistakes in order to win. Last year the Cardinals did just that, and things got ugly very early on inside the Carrier Dome.
The only other cause for concern here is that Syracuse might be playing for its postseason life in this game. They also showed the ability to pull off the massive upset in year one under Dino Babers. I don’t think history repeats itself here, though.
CC Prediction: Louisville 49, Syracuse 31
GAME TWELVE: At Kentucky
I still am not in a place where I’m ready to talk about last year’s game. I’ve still never watched highlights of the game, let alone the full replay.
This year’s Kentucky team ought to be better than that one, but still not at Louisville’s level. Having said that, a rivalry game at the end of the year is always dangerous. There are injuries (look at U of L’s secondary in last year’s game), there are varying levels of motivation, and there are all sorts of post-regular season storylines already in motion that can be distracting.
It’s a weird setup, but I just can’t see Bobby Petrino letting Lexington Basketball Academy get the better of him for a second straight year. The Governor’s Cup will come home.
CC Prediction: Louisville 40, Kentucky 27
FINAL RECORD: 9-3 (5-3)
I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse about one of these predictions than this one. If Louisville can go 10-2 or better, then you feel like you’ve taken a step forward and you you’re in line for something cool in the postseason. If you go 9-3, it feels not only like more of the same, but like you haven’t taken full advantage of a once in a generation talent at quarterback. Also, that once in a generation talent at quarterback almost certainly has no shot at making history and repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner.
Here’s to hoping I’m being overly cautious here.