Louisville could benefit from struggles by ACC teams

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- In the Atlantic Coast Conference's preseason football poll Louisville was picked to finish last both in the Atlantic Division and overall (14th) by a decisive margin.

Now, just a few weeks into the season and before the Cardinals have even played their first ACC game, it may be time to reconsider and possibly revise those predictions.

The main reason isn't necessarily that the Cards have performed better than anticipated in their three non-conference tuneups -- although that is certainly the case. The primary factor is that based on early returns the ACC -- after top-ranked Clemson, of course -- looks to be far weaker than it has been in recent years. The ACC is widely considered to be the worst of the Power Five conferences.

"Clemson is in a league of their own," U of L coach Scott Satterfield said. "They're playing at a different level than anybody else."

Other than the Tigers, though, Satterfield's timing for his first tour of duty through the conference appears to be impeccable.

For starters, let's review this past weekend's embarrassing results for league teams.

Boston College, a three-touchdown favorite, was upset at home Friday night by Kansas 48-24, the Jayhawks first road win over a Power Five opponent since 2008, a span of 48 games. The Eagles allowed 567 total yards.

Saturday, things went from bad to worse for the ACC. N.C. State gave up 173 rushing yards in a 44-27 loss to rebuilding West Virginia, which entered the game having managed a mere 56 yards on 43 carries.

Virginia Tech, which lost to BC in its opener, had to overcome a 14-3 halftime deficit to defeat Furman, an FCS team, 24-17.

Georgia Tech wasn't as fortunate. The Yellow Jackets lost 27-24 at home in overtime to The Citadel, another FCS club with losses to Elon and Towson this season. Typical of ACC teams' hapless adventures so far, the hosts appeared to have won on a 17-yard touchdown run with 10 seconds remaining. But the score was wiped off the board because coach Geoff Collins had called a timeout before the snap.

Pittsburgh had a chance to pull off an upset at No. 13 Penn State, but a questionable call by coach Pat Narduzzi proved costly. He decided to attempt a field goal on fourth down at the Nittany Lions' one-yard line trailing by seven points with five minutes left in the game. The kicker then bounced the field goal try off the uprights and Pitt lost 17-10.

Narduzzi's explanation afterwards didn't make much sense either. "Because you need two scores to win the football game," he said, adding that he didn't question the decision "at all."

Elsewhere in the league this season. . .

Florida State – U of L's opening ACC opponent Saturday in Tallahassee -- is off to a 1-2 start that already has fans calling for coach Willie Taggart's firing.

Syracuse has been outscored 104-26 in its last two games, including giving up 63 points to a Maryland team that lost the following week to Temple 20-17.

And Miami's only win is over FCS Bethune-Cookman.

Besides No. 1 Clemson, the only ACC team ranked in the Top 25 in either poll is Virginia, at No. 21 in the AP poll and No. 22 in the USA Today coaches ranking. Wake Forest is also 3-0, but unranked.

The rise of Virginia and Wake provide hope for a quick turnaround for U of L, particularly in light of Satterfield's progress to date. Four years ago, Virginia was 4-8 and Wake was 3-9. Now they look like they could be alone in the second tier behind Clemson.

Of the aforementioned ACC teams, the only two U of L won't face are Pitt and Virginia Tech.

What does all this mean for Louisville? As noted, it certainly looks like a good opportunity for the Cards to exceed preseason expectations -- possibly by enough to earn a bowl bid.

But even given the ACC's decline this season, the rebuilding Cards still have a small margin of error, as Satterfield noted Monday during his weekly press conference.

"I think it comes down to each and every week you have to stay focused, and we're dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds," he said. "If we can keep them focused on today -- what can I do to get better? Am I going to show up for treatment when I'm supposed to? Am I going to do the little things right? I think that's where we are as a football team right now, is trying to do the little things right.

"This is a very competitive league each and every week. If you don't show up, you'll get beat. I think that's been proven. But when you show up and do the things you're supposed to do, you'll win the football game. You take it one game at a time, and you hope at the end of the season what you've done is good enough."

Many of those games, though, don't look quite as daunting as they may have a month or so ago.


Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.



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