We are now through four weeks of the college football season, and one of the biggest surprises in the sport is Louisville. Bobby Petrino’s club is currently sitting at 4-0 and No. 3 in the polls, and will be in the driver’s seat for a spot in the College Football Playoff with a win Saturday against Clemson.
But while the Cardinals are currently a slight favorite in Vegas, Louisville still has some doubters. Can the Cardinals -- a team with no high-level college football pedigree to speak of -- really knock off the defending ACC champs and national runner’s up last year? I believe so.
Here are five reasons Louisville will go into Clemson and knock off the Tigers.
Louisville is one of the fastest starting teams in the country, and Clemson is one of the slowest
Louisville isn’t just beating teams this year, but beating them up, winning their four games by a staggering 41 points a contest. That’s a huge number, thanks in large part to the fact the Cardinals might just be the fastest-starting team in college football.
Louisville is averaging 40.5 points in the first half of games. That's more than 98 teams in college football average over the entire game. It’s also bad news for a Clemson club that has started slow. If you take out a 45-point first half against FCS opponent South Carolina State, the Tigers are averaging just 15 points per game in first halves this season.
Clemson's biggest advantage in this game is the home-field crowd. That could be taken out early if the Cardinals get off to their typical hot start.
APWalter Scriptunas II
Clemson’s offense just isn’t the same as last year
Clemson's offensive woes haven't just been a first half thing -- it's actually been true for all 60 minutes so far this season. Despite playing a pretty manageable schedule to start the year, Clemson is averaging just 33 points per game (down from 38.5 last year). If you take out that South Carolina State win, they’re averaging just 25 per contest.
For the Tigers, things just haven’t been the same as last year, and it’s hard to figure out why. Despite returning Wayne Gallman at running back, he's averaging 4.1 yards per carry (compared to 5.4 last year), and when you add him to an explosive offense that includes Artavis Scott and Mike Williams, it’s stunning to see the Tigers rank just 79th nationally in yards per play.
Everyone is waiting for the Tigers to revert back to last year’s form, but we’re now a quarter of the way through the season. At a certain point, you are what you are, and right now, the Tigers aren’t a very good offensive team.
Louisville’s defense is really good
Lost in all the talk about Louisville’s explosive offense is that the Cardinals sport one of the best defenses in college football, too. Louisville ranks 13th nationally in total defense, ahead of more traditional powers like Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan State and Washington.
Still, the unit isn’t just good as a whole, but good in individual areas as well. Louisville currently ranks in the Top 10 nationally in both sacks (tied for seventh) and tackles for loss (34) and also has three interceptions.
Individually, James Hearns has been one of college football’s breakout stars, with 4.5 sacks this season.
Louisville's offense is more than just Lamar Jackson
I wrote about this a bit after Louisville’s curb-stomping of Florida State, but it’s worth repeating here: The Cardinals' offense is about more than just Lamar Jackson.
While Jackson is phenomenal, Louisville is about as balanced a team as you’ll find anywhere in college football. James Quick has been a breakout star at receiver. Brandon Radcliffe is averaging a staggering 9.3 yards per carry and 106 yards per game, and might be the most underrated running back in the sport. And with Louisville averaging a national best 7.1 yards per carry, the offensive line is playing phenomenally as well.
Jackson gets the headlines, but this just might be the most balanced offense in college football.
Getty ImagesTyler Smith
OK, OK, I’ve soft-sold Jackson enough at this point. While he certainly isn’t the only reason the Cardinals have had success this season, he is the biggest one.
Jackson’s numbers seem like they’re straight out of a video game. Through four contests, he has thrown for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns, while adding another 526 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Despite playing quarterback, he is ranked eighth nationally in rushing yards (ahead of guys like Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook), and his 12 rushing touchdowns lead the nation.
Want another insane, mind-boggling stat on Jackson that seems too crazy to possibly be true? Only one team (besides Louisville) has scored more total touchdowns than Jackson’s 25 this year, and that’s Michigan with 28.
If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about Jackson and the Cardinals, nothing will.