Don’t look now, but the ACC might finally have the program with the Sunshine State swagger and love ‘em or hate ‘em outlaw aura it thought it was getting when it added Miami a dozen years ago.
It just so happens the team flaunting a disregard for conventional morals and scoring touchdowns nearly too fast for the scoreboard to keep up is located in Western Kentucky. The U might not be what it once was, and that’s fine. The L might be stepping up to take its place.
Yes, Louisville and sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson (a Miami area native) have an opportunity to become favorites to claim ACC title and Heisman Trophy if the No. 10 Cardinals can keep their fast start going and knock off No. 2 Florida State this weekend in front of a wild ESPN College Gameday crowd.
It’s no secret that Louisville, through multiple coaching staffs, has built its success by heavily recruiting Florida, and Jackson is just the latest in a line of stars from the Sunshine State to standout for the Cardinals. Jackson already has 13 touchdowns, seven passing and six on the ground, through two games. The Cardinals are averaging 66 points per game and having quite a bit of fun running overmatched Charlotte and Syracuse teams off the field.
They face a much stiffer challenge Saturday when the Seminoles come to Papa John’s Stadium, but the Seminoles will also have to figure out a way to slow down Jackson and the Louisville offense. That’s no small feat.
Maybe Saturday will be the start of a rivalry between Florida State and Louisville that matches what FSU-Miami was supposed to be when ACC expansion began so many years ago.
It’s not that Miami isn’t in a good, and improving, spot. The Canes have a star quarterback of their own in Brad Kaaya. But with new nice-guy coach Mark Richt, even successful Miami teams won’t have the same bad-boy vibe.
Maybe Louisville can fill the role of the ACC team that’s either wildly entertaining or the league villain, depending on your perspective. Particularly if the Cardinals keep bringing in players who grew up inspired by the antics and triumphs of The U.
It’s not as though the Louisville players are particularly unlikable, but you can bet that if you aren’t a Cardinals fan, watching them celebrate touchdown after touchdown and run up the score could soon wear thin.
The true heel in Louisville, of course, is the Cardinals’ coach. Bobby Petrino’s history of bad behavior is well-documented. He was even widely disliked by Cardinals fans after leaving Louisville for the NFL shortly after signing a 10-year contract extension.
But after a series of equally ungraceful exits from the Atlanta Falcons, Arkansas Razorbacks and Western Kentucky, Petrino is back at Louisville and winning. Cardinals fans will put up with him while warily wondering what shenanigans might be coming next.
Beyond electrifying football, Louisville has brought the ACC an athletic department with a powerhouse baseball team and a basketball program that’s winning despite the taint of recruiting and sex scandals. If that doesn’t remind people of Miami at its best (or worst, depending on your perspective), what would?
But if that’s the role Louisville is going to play in today’s ACC, the Cardinals have to keep winning. Beating Florida State would place Louisville squarely in the national championship picture, which would mean that love ‘em or hate ‘em, you’re going to watch them.