Louisville

Louisville football fans should be pleased with 2017 schedule

Lamar Jackson Louisville
Jamie Rhodes/USA Today Sports

The ACC has released the 2017 football schedule for all 14 of the league’s teams. While not everyone was thrilled with how the schedule worked out for their team, Louisville football fans hoping the 2017 team can build upon a 9-3 2016 season and Lamar Jackson’s Heisman Trophy season should be pleased with the team’s schedule.

Balance

Louisville’s front-loaded 2016 schedule set the team up for the major letdown that was the second half of the season. After pummeling Florida State in Week 3 and losing by a hair at Clemson two weeks later, what was then considered the meat of Louisville’s schedule was already gone just five weeks into the season. In 2017, Louisville’s schedule features Clemson on Sept. 16, Florida State Oct. 21 and improved Kentucky to end the season Nov. 25. There will be no excuses for mentally going in the tank with the most important games not bunched together.

Getting the New Early

Louisville fans know good and well how hard it is to replace a first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback. Florida State at least has been beatable in the post-Jameis Winston era. Louisville went through some lean offensive years after Teddy Bridgewater’s departure to the NFL. It took a Heisman Trophy winner coming along to jump start things offensively again.

RELATED: Notable ACC games for 2017

Getting Clemson and traveling to North Carolina were never going to be easy games, but, if you have to play them, playing them early in seasons in which they’re replacing Deshaun Watson and Mitch Trubisky, respectively, certainly doesn’t hurt. In Clemson’s case, in addition to Watson it will be replacing virtually everyone at the skill positions that helped them upset Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game and its defensive leader, Ben Boulware. Will either team have its offense up and running well enough to outscore Jackson and the Louisville offense?

Avoiding the Top of the Coastal

Avoiding the toughest part of the Coastal Division should also help Louisville in the Atlantic Division race. While Virginia did beat Louisville in 2014 and pushed the Cardinals in 2015 and 2016, there’s no denying that having the Cavaliers as the permanent Coastal Division crossover opponent helps. Especially when you consider that Florida State’s permanent crossover opponent is Miami and Clemson’s is Georgia Tech. In 2017, Clemson also has to travel to Virginia Tech, which was much improved in year one under Justin Fuente. Louisville, meanwhile, travels to North Carolina in Week 2 and hosts Virginia in November. Advantage Louisville.

No Extra Prep Time for Opponents

In 2016, several opponents had bye weeks or faced over-matched FCS opponents in the weeks leading up to facing Louisville. The schedule is far more kind to Louisville in 2017. Kentucky, instead of facing Austin Peay, will travel to Georgia the week before Louisville. Clemson hosts Auburn in Week 2 before travel to Louisville the following week. North Carolina opens with a neutral-field game against South Carolina before hosting the Cardinals. Louisville must travel to North Carolina State on five days rest; however, the Wolfpack will also be playing on five days rest, and while Louisville will have just finished playing Murray State, they’ll be hosting Syracuse and Dino Babers’ hyper-fast offense. Florida State is the only key opponent on the Louisville schedule that doesn’t have some kind of test in the week prior to facing Louisville. The Seminoles have an open date,  then travel to Duke before hosting the Cardinals.

Louisville football will have another opportunity to contend for the ACC Atlantic Division and ACC conference title in 2017. If it doesn’t, it won’t be because of the schedule.

(You can follow Mark Ennis on Twitter @MarkEnnis)

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