Louisville is coming off a promising 8-5 season. Normally 8-wins isn’t anything special, but given the circumstances it was. The Cardinals only had 9 returning starters and lost 5 All-ACC players.

Getting to 8 wins was even more impressive given that Louisville started the year 0-3. The first time they got off to that bad of a start since 1984.

Nothing to be ashamed with the first 3 defeats, as they came against Auburn, Houston and Clemson. Keep in mind they could have won all 3 of those contests. That includes a mere 3-point defeat to ACC champion Clemson at home.

After the slow start the Tigers finished the regular season with a 6-2 record over their final 8 games. They capped off the strong end to 2015 with a 27-21 win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl.

The Cardinals will go into 2016 as a legit sleeper to surprise everyone and win the Atlantic. It will be head coach Bobby Petrino’s third year with the team since returning and he’s got 17 starters back.

Last Season
ACC (Atlantic)
Record
ATS Record
Over/Under
Points For
Points Against
5-3 (3rd)
8-5
7-6
7-6
28.7
24.1
2016 Schedule
DateOpponentSpread (Est.)Win Chance
9/1Charlotte
9/9@ Syracuse
9/17Florida State
9/24@ Marshall
10/1@ Clemson
10/14Duke
10/22NC State
10/29@ Virginia
11/5@ Boston College
11/12Wake Forest
11/17@ Houston
11/26Kentucky
Estimated Wins: TBD

I think it’s safe to say Louisville won’t be starting out 0-3 this time around. The Cardinals open with an easy home game against Charlotte before going on the road to face Syracuse. The game against the Orange is bit concerning. Not only is it a Friday night nationally televised contest, but it comes the week before hosting FSU.

That game against the Seminoles is critical to Louisville’s chances at winning the Atlantic. A loss there and they are likely out of the race with a road game against Clemson looming.

After their big showdown with the Tigers, the Cardinals have a favorable 5-game stretch. They host Duke and NC State, before going to Virginia and BC and then returning home to face Wake Forest.

They close out the season with a huge road game at Houston in another weekday prime time game. Followed by their in-state clash in the finale at home against Kentucky.

Roster Breakdown

Last year the Cardinals offense averaged a respectable 28.7 ppg and 416 ypg. While nothing to complain about, it’s not up to Petino’s standards. With 9 starters back in 2016, I expect a big improvement on this side of the ball.

There’s big time expectations going into this season for sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson. He had his struggles early, as you would expect from a true freshman, but was electric late. He ended up rushing for a team-high 960 yards and 11 touchdowns. If Petrino can work his magic in the passing game, this offense is going to be tough to stop.

Louisville also gets back all their top playmakers from last year. They get back their top two backs in senior Brandon Radcliff and junior Jeremy Smith. They also return their top 10 pass catchers.

The only two holes to fill on offense are at right tackle and and right guard. While not one of the best units the ACC has to offer, Jackson’s mobility helps them out. They also have three sophomore who started 5 or more games as freshmen last year.

The defense has 8 starters back, but do have some big time playmakers to replace. The biggest loss was defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who was taken in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. They also lose two talented linebackers in James Burgess and Keith Brown.

The good news is they have a lot of talent left over. Up front in their 3-4 scheme, they get back 2nd-Team All-ACC nose tackle DeAngelo Brown. They will have two new starters at defensive end, but do add in Ole Miss transfer Chris Williams.

At linebacker the Cardinals may just have the best player in the conference on this side of the ball. That being Devonte Fields, who was the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Fields was dominant late in the year in his first season with the Cardinals. He ended up with 64 tackles and a team-high 10.5 sacks.

They also get back 1st-Team All-ACC linebacker Keith Kelsey, who lead the team with 107 tackles. Kelsey and Fields will be joined by Josh Harvey-Clemons and Stacy Thomas. This unit will be even stronger if senior Trevon Young can return from injury.

The secondary looks pretty strong as well. Even with Harvey-Clemons moving down to linebacker, they still have 3 starters coming back. All 3 are juniors who could be in line for a big jump in production. That includes both starting corners and strong safety Chucky Williams.

Odds
Regular Season Win Total
ACC Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
9
+1000
+7000
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
Season Predictions

Petrino has done an outstanding job of bringing in talent to get the Cardinals on par with Clemson and FSU. He’s getting big time players out of high school and a lot of really good juco transfers.

When you talk about the ACC going into 2016, it’s pretty much all Clemson. This Louisville team is flying way under the radar. Not only could they win the Atlantic, but potentially make the 4-team playoff.

I have the Cardinals knocking off Florida State at home, but I do have them losing at Clemson and Houston. That adds up to a 7-1 mark in the ACC and 10-2 record overall. I do have Clemson also finishing 7-1, but they would win the tie-breaker.

2016 Projections
ACC (Atlantic)
ACC Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
T-1st
7-1
10-2
OVER 9
More College Football Predictions