The past month of ACC football includes Louisville losing a game at Clemson it could have won, Clemson surviving North Carolina State in a contest it should have lost, and Louisville embarrassing N.C. State 54-13.
It’s all about consistency in this age of college football parity with 85 scholarship limits. The ACC standings don’t bear it out, but no one in the ACC has been more consistent to this point than Louisville despite the No. 7 Cardinals (6-1, 4-1 ACC Atlantic) trailing No. 4 Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC Atlantic) in the standings.
To recount, Louisville played up to championship standards despite losing (42-36) at Clemson in the final seconds. Then, the Cardinals survived their only down week to date with a 24-14 win over Duke.
Clemson, though, looked ordinary opening the season with a 19-13 win at Auburn and avoided disaster a week later with a 30-24 win over Troy. The Tigers survived despite five turnovers and beat N.C. State 24-17 in overtime only because Wolfpack kicker Kyle Bambard missed a 33-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who accounted for four touchdowns against N.C. State, said the Cardinals were more focused in practice after the Duke scare, which became an aberration rather than an indicator for UL.
“It was really all about focusing because last week we didn’t focus at all,” Jackson said to the media after the game. “We came out here, and we executed, and kept scoring points. Even field goals, they count, and we just came out on top.”
For Louisville, the rout of N.C. State kept alive the Cardinals’ slim hopes for the College Football Playoff and boosted Jackson’s strong case for the Heisman Trophy. The sophomore quarterback passed for three touchdowns and rushed for one to finish with 431 total yards (335 passing, 76 rushing).
“He’s what we thought he was going to be,” N.C. State Coach Dave Doeren told the media after the game. “He’s been great all year. He’s breaking records left and right and we knew that coming in. The thing that he’s got around him, like I said multiple times this week, is he has really good players around him.”
Louisville is poised to climb at least one spot in the Top 25 from No. 7 with No. 6 Texas A&M losing to Alabama, 33-14. That keeps the Cardinals in the conversation for one of the four CFP berths if they win out.
For N.C. State, the embarrassing loss finished a three-week challenge of Notre Dame, Clemson and Louisville. The Wolfpack showed it can compete with the best some weeks but not consistently. At the start of the three-week stretch, N.C. State would have taken a 1-2 record, but not the way it played out.
N.C. State beat Notre Dame 10-3 in hurricane conditions and should have upset Clemson. Not playing a competitive game against Louisville takes some shine off the Notre Dame upset and the moral victory against Clemson.
Against Clemson, the Wolfpack’s Matthew Dayes ran for 106 yards and the team 128. Against Louisville, Dayes was knocked out of the contest with 13 yards and the Wolfpack managed only 14 net yards on 25 carries.
Based on consistency to this point on the season, Louisville appears a better bet than Clemson to avoid an upset down the stretch. Clemson still has tough dates against Florida State and Pitt and an in-state game with South Carolina. Louisville’s toughest remaining test is Houston.
The problem for Louisville, though, is Clemson holds the tiebreaker on Louisville if the Tigers drop only one conference game.
Consistency won’t help Louisville if it finishes no better than a tie with Clemson in the ACC Atlantic and if the CFP committee sticks to four conference champions to fill the CFP slots.
In some ways, Louisville is in an uncomfortable position, but the Cardinals were comfortable against N.C. State. If this team can remain that way, who knows what it can achieve by season’s end?
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter @shanny4055.