I promise that this isn’t a shameless plug, but last week I co-hosted Mike’s show with him while John Ramsey was out. I’m plugging it because Mike asked me a question that really got me thinking about the upcoming season. Mike essentially asked me how I would convince someone that this team could go to a bowl game. I rambled off some nonsensical stuff about teams taking a step back and none of it really made sense, but that’s why I write things and don’t talk about them on live radio. So, here’s a better look at the point I was trying to make.
The ACC couldn’t be more different when it comes to the two divisions. Clemson and FSU have dominated the Atlantic for the past decade plus while the Coastal has a preseason prediction to have the seventh different champion in seven years. For Louisville to have a better than expected bounce back year, the Atlantic has to borrow some of the parity that the Coastal has had.
We can just run through the schedule and see that 9 teams that Louisville will play this year went to a bowl last year and one other beat them. Hell, they didn’t even win convincingly against one of their two “buy games” and that team ended up firing their coach. So, how can this team bounce back with that type of schedule? They’ll need the Atlantic to cannibalize itself like the Coastal has.
It’s really hard to sustain things in major college football. The blue bloods even struggle to not backslide from time to time. Louisville will need the “middle of the pack” teams in the Atlantic to backslide from last year in order to have a chance to make a bowl or have an overachieving type of season. In a sense, they would need every internet troll that replies to a positive tweet about Syracuse to be right.
But the positive for Louisville is that every single team on their schedule has legit question marks that could lead to an upset for Louisville. Even Clemson has holes to fill. They just get to fill those holes with five stars. So I decided to run through the schedule and take a look at a thing or two that each team might have a concern with. Maybe Louisville can exploit a weakness or maybe these teams might have a glaring issue that could cause them to take a step back.
Notre Dame is the first game of the season and if you’re looking to see how the Cards can win this game you have to look at the defensive side of the ball. ND will be replacing two of their starting linebackers as well as one of their nose tackle. They will also be without Julian Love at cornerback after a stellar year last season. Unlike Clemson, they won’t be plugging guys in that we all got to see make big plays last year. Houston Griffith should slide in very well at one of the corner spots but the other spots will be manned by guys that just haven’t done a whole lot during their careers.
Florida State’s issues are pretty well documented and they are in a very similar situation as the Cards. No one knows how or if they will improve this year because they mostly have the same guys at the problem positions. The offensive line has to take a massive step forward to be able to get the rest of the offense going and they weren’t able to add any impact grad transfers or high school recruits to the group. Then they lost their best linemen to a grad transfer. So they are relying on a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach to fix it all.
Louisville hasn’t really had any success stopping Boston College’s offense over the last two years but Louisville could have a better chance of doing so this year because this team lost a lot of talent. They’re replacing their top offensive lineman as well as three of their top four pass catchers. They’re also losing their best two pass rushers, top tackler, and most experienced defensive back. A theme with the teams that sit in the middle of the division will be how their recent recruiting will help them sustain things. I’m pretty bullish on BC being able to just plug guys in to these key spots. BC has had a lot of good players get drafted over the last handful of years but replacing four draft picks is out of the ordinary.
There have been a lot of comments about how Wake Forest isn’t a good team and I’ll be the first person to call that idiotic. Coaching matters and Dave Clawson is the best example of that. Clawson had injury issues at quarterback and offensive line last year on top of the fact that he had to fire his defensive coordinator in the middle of the season. He still took his team to a bowl game. Wake has to replace Gregg Dortch but they landed two four-star receivers in this past class and they still have Sage Surratt who should take a step forward. They return pretty much everything else and the absurd injury issues they had last year will only help the replacement players this year.
Clemson has to reload on defense and until Brent Venables doesn’t come do so, it should be assumed that they will.
I like that Virginia is getting their due this summer because they have the most underrated or overlooked quarterback in the country, in my opinion. Bryce Perkins put up great numbers last year and his second half of the season was actually comparable to Trevor Lawrence. But, I have no clue how they replace their running game outside of him or how they replace Olimade Zaccheaus at wide receiver. The defense will be fine without Juan Thornhill and Tim Harris but I think they were able to do what they did last year because they actually had weapons on offense.
Miami’s quarterback situation isn’t much better than Louisville’s and they also have to find some consistent replacements at wide receiver and backup running back. Manny Diaz went heavy on the transfers this winter and they will be plugging in former number one overall ranked recruit Jaelan Phillips at defensive end. They also add K.J. Osborn who had a big year as a receiver at Buffalo. Tate Martell and Bubba Bolden are also guys that could become starters this year. But a lot of what they lost from last year will be filled in by unproven guys with a new staff on offense and a defensive staff that will be adjusting to their leader being the head coach now. That could cause some issues.
The sneaky pick for Louisville to pull off an upset is NC State, in my opinion. State hasn’t been able to get over the hump over the last few years even though they had a good amount of NFL players and they’re entering this year having to replace pretty much all of those guys. They have to replace their quarterback as well as their top two receivers. The running back position struggle all year last season and they’re replacing the starter there. Then you have the turnover on the offensive line. They just haven’t recruited at a level where that just gets fixed easily. Then you have the defense that was already suspect and now will be without Germaine Pratt who was their best player. They’ve landed some very good defensive linemen over the last two recruiting cycles but their boring scheme might be their biggest issue.
Syracuse has been a popular pick to possibly challenge Clemson in the Atlantic and as weird as that sounds, it makes sense with what they did last year. Cuse didn’t win their two big regular season games but they hung with Clemson and they smoked WVU in their bowl game. They also return just about everyone outside of Eric Dungey and that could be a blessing in disguise. Dungey was inconsistent and reckless with the football. Tommy Devito might be able to settle things down a bit and help their offense become even more balanced this year. Syracuse has a really good group of running backs to work with and should be able to replace the deep threat they’re losing at receiver. The key thing with them, to me, is that they bring back all of the key players on defense with the exception of one and those guys should all be better this year.
Mark Stoops and his team gained a ton of confidence last year with their 10-win season but I tend to think they had a perfect storm type of situation more than anything. Kentucky will have to replace Benny Snell and Josh Allen who are arguably the best offensive and defensive players in the school’s history. To keep it short and sweet with the rest of the team, they have to replace the top player at every position group on the team outside of quarterback and wide receiver. I really like some of the guys that will be stepping in on defense but they’re going to be asked to play at a very high level and I’m not sure they can do that. The offensive issues are just as glaring because they’re going to have to rely on Terry Wilson being more than just a game manager and he wasn’t all that great at being just that last year.
If you’re looking for something to point to in hopes to see how Louisville can somehow pull off a better than expected season, the reason is probably above. It’s highly unlikely that all of these teams keep climbing or even stand pat. Someone will have a down year. Another team will have injuries that they can’t overcome. Hell, maybe one or ore of these coaches gets exposed. Something has to give and Scott Satterfield will have to find a way to take advantage.