Louisvillein the ACC Championship Game on Saturday with a wild 38-31 win at Miami that came down to fourth-and-goal stand in the final minutes. The No. 10 Cardinals finish their 2023 ACC schedule with a 7-1 record and will face undefeated No. 4 Florida State in the conference title game on Dec. 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Cardinals have been playing football in the ACC since 2014. Though they were officially co-division champs in 2016 behind Lamar Jackson’s stellar Heisman Trophy-winning campaign, they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to a Clemson team that went on to win the national championship.
So now it’s Florida State, making its sixth ACC title game appearance, and Louisville, making its first, in a game that is expected to be packed with both College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six implications.
As former ACC Atlantic rivals, these two programs have seen a good bit of each other recently with Louisville holding a 5-4 edge in the series since joining the conference. They were not scheduled to play in 2023, the first year of divisionless play in the ACC title game era, and Florida State did win the most recent meeting 35-31 in 2022. Thanks to their affiliation with the Metro Conference in other sports beyond football during the Bobby Bowden-led days of Independence, there was a significant run of games between Florida State and Louisville in the 1980s, all won by the Seminoles. In total, the series history between these two teams stands with Florida State leading 17-6.
Keys to the game
Florida State has risen to the top of the ACC with its first 8-0 league record and title game appearance since 2014 thanks to an offense that has been elite in conference play. The Seminoles averaged 425 yards per game at 6.55 yards per play against ACC opponents, with quarterback Jordan Travis leading the way and wide receiver Keon Coleman serving as the ultimate X-factor in some of the team’s biggest moments. Louisville’s best chance to knock off the Seminoles starts with limiting their passing attack and getting Travis out of rhythm. That’s where the Cardinals do have the requisite tools to execute the plan, boasting a defensive front that finished the season strong when it comes to applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
On the other side of the ball, a big factor in the game will be whether Louisville’s ground attack can have enough success to avoid third-and-long situations for quarterback Jack Plummer. Thanks to his extensive experience with coach Jeff Brohm, Plummer has a good handle on the offense and can put up big numbers. However, he’s in a better position to succeed when the offense is ahead of the chains and opposing defenses can’t pin their ears back in obvious passing situations.
Louisville was just 5 for 12 on third down in the win against Miami with a handful of those failed attempts ending in incomplete passes with Plummer under duress. Running back Isaac Guerendo also carried a heavier workload against the Hurricanes than starter Jawhar Jordan. Guerendo led the team with 93 yards and a score on 15 attempts, showing that the position has depth should any injuries throw a wrench in the game plan.
Stakes for Florida State
Florida State will be favored in its remaining two regular-season games (North Alabama, at Florida), but it is possible that the Seminoles could get tripped up before facing Louisville in Charlotte. If the expectations hold, Florida State will be taking the national stage on Dec. 2 with a chance to play its way into the College Football Playoff. Even as a potential one-loss team, Florida State’s body of work will demand consideration if there is an upset along the way elsewhere in the college football landscape.
Stakes for Louisville
With just one loss on the season so far, Louisville could have a chance at the ultimate playoff dark horse argument should the Cardinals defeat Kentucky in their rivalry game to close the regular season. But even if those CFP hopes are slim, there are still opportunities for Louisville to finish the season in historic fashion. A win against Florida State puts the Cardinals in the Orange Bowl as ACC champions, but that’s not the only path to South Beach; Louisville could get the nod for the Orange Bowl as the next highest-ranked ACC team should the Seminoles make the playoff. That’s where Saturday’s win against Miami was likely most significant: It preserves the Cardinals’ ranking up in or near the top 10 heading into the final week of the regular season.