With ACC Media Days and #talkingszn for virtually every other conference in full swing, it’s starting to really feel like football season is just around the corner. And while the media cast their predictions for each conference and begin putting their pre-season Top 25 ballots together, they’re not alone as the computers are putting theirs together, too.
We were lucky enough to have ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) rankings released recently, and with that also comes FPI’s game-by-game predictions. As we’ve discussed previously on this site, Louisville’s schedule is shaping up to be one of its greatest challenges yet, and the FPI doesn’t disagree. While Louisville ranks #18 in returning production and checks in at #36 overall in the FPI rankings, the Cards have seven (7!) teams on their schedule ranked ahead of them. That’s gonna be tough. Which is probably why the FPI projects a 6.3-5.7 record and gives UofL a 69% chance of reaching bowl eligibility, as well as a 3.9% chance of winning the Atlantic Division.
Let’s take a look at each of Louisville’s opponents and the odds FPI gives the Cards to win those games. The results are based on 20,000 simulations.
Saturday, Sept. 3 @ #60 Syracuse Orange
Odds to win: 58.2%
Louisville will start off the season with a decent test in the Carrier JMA Wireless Dome (it’s always going to be the Carrier Dome, fight me). While the Cardinals have beaten Syracuse by combined score of 127-27 in the last three games, Syracuse brings back 80% of their production from last year, which is good enough for 11th in the country. Usually that means we should expect a team to take a step or two forward, regardless of whether that production was very productive. And no matter how you paint it, opening the season with conference play is always going to be tricky. My favorite tidbit about this game is that this will be the first time Louisville’s ever played in the not-Carrier Dome since air conditioning was installed in 2021.
Friday, Sept. 9 @ #34 UCF Golden Knights
Odds to win: 36.8%
Six day turnaround. On the road. Against a higher ranked opponent. This one should be tricky. UCF returns a good amount (69%, #41 overall) from a team that gave the Cards all they could handle last year on their home turf. The Gus Malzahn and the Golden Knights hit the portal HARD this offseason and scooped up 14 transfers, virtually all from SEC schools, and finished 15th overall in the 247 transfer recruiting rankings. Friday night in the “bounce house” should be a wild one as revenge will surely be on the minds of nearly everyone with a hospitality management degree in Florida.
Friday, Sept. 16 vs. #33 Florida State Seminoles
Odds to win: 52.4%
For what feels like the 43rd year in a row, Florida State looks to get back to their winning ways. Louisville escaped from Tallahassee with a victory last year, and with a win this year the Cards will have a winning ACC record versus the ‘Noles. Not sure that’s something we could have expected when we joined the conference in 2014. Will FSU be better? Who the hell knows? Probably? But I’m not expecting 2013 FSU to be walking through those doors any time soon, so a win in what should be a rowdy home opener at Cardinal Stadium on Friday night could set Louisville on a positive trajectory for the rest of the season.
Saturday, Sept. 24 vs. #86 South Florida Bulls
Odds to win: 86%
I kind of love having an old BIg East foe like USF back on the schedule. USF haven’t been their pesky selves for quite a while now, but Jeff Scott appears to at least have the Bulls heading in the right direction. He also has Chad Morris calling the plays on offense, which adds some intrigue. But most impressively, USF ranks 2nd in the country with 85% of their production from 2021 returning this year. Just win this game, y’all.
Saturday, Oct. 1 @ #59 Boston College Eagles
Odds to win: 57.5%
Jeff Hafley is one of the hottest up and comer names there is, and with former Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec running the offense, the Eagles are going to be one of those teams that just won’t go away for four full quarters. Jurkovec had some bad injury luck last year, and the Eagles suffered because of it, but when he was healthy the Eagles’ offense was potent. Wouldn’t be surprised if this one turns out to be a shootout.
Saturday, Oct. 8 @ #55 Virginia Cavaliers
Odds to win: 56.2%
I really hate when we play in Charlottesville. We always play weird games there, and I expect this year to be no different. Bronco Mendenhall is gone, but they’ve brought in former Clemson OC Tony Elliot and they return one of the best QBs in the conference in Brennan Armstrong. However, including Armstrong, the Hoos only bring back 54% of their production from last season, which ranks 104th in the country. The passing attack wouldn’t be much of concern as Armstrong has top receivers Dontayvion Wicks, Keytaon Thompson and Billy Kemp IV all returning, except that the Cavs have to replace all five starters on the o-line from last year. That’s going to be a tough act for Elliot to pull off in year one. The defense, which garnered a reputation for giving up big plays, returns just 5 starters. Unless the defense can limit damage and Armstrong can get time in the pocket, Louisville should win this one.
Saturday, Oct. 22 vs. #20 Pittsburgh Panthers
Odds to win: 46.6%
Louisville gets a nice two week break before returning home to play the defending ACC Champs. I still can’t believe that last part is real. Honestly, I’m surprised to see Louisville getting near 50/50 odds to win this game considering how strong Pitt was last year and the high expectations they have for themselves. Pitt returns 64% of last year’s production (67th overall), and will be without OC Mark Whipple, Heisman finalist QB Kenny Pickett, and Biletnikoff winning WR/now infamous USC transfer Jordan Addison. But USC transfer QB Kedon Slovis looks to be a solid replacement, and both sides of the line are once again looking elite. If Pitt’s offense can keep moving in life after Pickett then they should be a tough task in 2022.
Saturday, Oct. 29 vs. #30 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Odds to win: 52.7%
Another week, another tossup game. The more I look at this schedule and how good Louisville should be, the more it looks like 2021 in the sense that most games look to be 50/50 and UofL could win as many as 10 games or as little as 5. Wake brings back all-conference QB Sam Hartman as well as 72% of their production from last year (28th overall). Should see another shootout between these two offenses, but at least we’ll have our own clock operator on the board this time.
Saturday, Nov. 5 vs. #120 James Madison Dukes
Odds to win: 93.8%
Trap game. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it, not even FPI. I’m in the Keith Wynn camp of “why the hell did we schedule this game?” Scheduling an FCS opponent is smart idea when you schedule some local slouch like Murray State (no offense) and let your second and third strings beat up on them and rest your starters. It’s not smart, however, when you schedule a team that hangs out in the same circles as North Dakota State. Don’t believe me? Since 2016 the JMU Dukes have won an FCS National Championship, appeared in three FCS National Championship games, five national semifinals, and have won their conference every year. That is not the kind of FCS opponent you’re supposed to schedule as your “get right” game. Oh, and the best part is the JMU is not even an FCS team any more as they’ve moved up to FBS and will be competing in the Sun Belt this fall. Just please don’t fall asleep at the wheel and win this game.
Saturday, Nov. 12 @ #4 Clemson Tigers
Odds to win: 9.7%
So FPI’s giving us a chance! But seriously, despite Clemson’s down year last year, the loss of Brent Venables to Oklahoma, and Tony Elliot to Virginia, Clemson is still a force to be reckoned with. Clemson once again fields a team made up of solely four- and five-stars, and their d-line looks as scary as ever. The big thing will be whether or not they can get QB DJ Uiagalelei to improve on his abysmal TD to INT ratio of 9:10 from last year. And hell, even if he can’t it’s not like Dabo doesn’t have another five-star QB he can throw in. This game will always be an uphill battle, especially in Death Valley. Stay healthy, please.
Saturday, Nov. 19 vs. #28 N.C. State Wolfpack
Odds to win: 51.6%
I was very surprised to see this number above 50%. N.C. State returns 82% (8th overall) of their production from their 9-3 campaign last year. They’re the dark horse favorites to beat out Clemson for the Atlantic Division title this year, and don’t be surprised if you see them get a few Top 10 votes when the pre-season AP Top 25 rankings come out. With all of the talent and production returning from last year, it’s not hard to see why so many people are high on what Dave Doeren and Devin Leary should field this year. This is going to be a grinder of a game, and with it being so late in the season, and in the middle of a brutal stretch, I hope Louisville will still have the legs to compete with a team of this caliber.
Saturday, Nov. 26 vs. #18 Kentucky Wildcats
Odds to win: 29.1%
Yeah, don’t love this number. But I get it. Until we’re able to play a competitive game against the Cats again, I don’t blame anyone or any computer for doubting the Cards. Objectively speaking, however, I am awfully curious to see how Kentucky tries to replicate their offensive production from last year. Sure they return QB Will Levis, and RB Chris Rodriguez (maybe???), but they lose single season receptions record holder Wan’Dale Robinson, OC Liam Coen, and the leading returning receiver, Izayah Cummings, had just 14 catches. UK fans are hoping Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson and FCS All-American transfer Ramon Jefferson. They should be able to cushion the blow, but it’s going to be a tall task replacing a player like Wan’Dale. And on top of all of that, there remains uncertainty about the eligibility of star RB Chris Rodriguez, they bring in their third OC in as many seasons, and they replace four of last year’s top six linemen.
That’s an awful lot of uncertainty, especially if you’re trying to get back to 10 wins. The defense loses star Josh Paschal, but should still be decent up front, and they have a strong LB corps returning. So really it’s up to the offense to keep things rolling. Something I hadn’t realized until today, and is certainly something to keep any eye is that UK will be hosting the reigning National Champions, Georgia, the week before. Instead of UK coming off an FCS opponent well rested for the Bourbon Bowl, we may see a more banged up team than usual.
So it turns out Louisville technically favored in 8 games this year, according to FPI, but with all of the toss-up games it seems fair for FPI and Vegas to be putting Louisville’s win total around the 6.5 mark.