Two teams in this week’s AP Top 25 poll will meet for the first time this season Saturday when No. 17 Miami travels to play No. 18 Louisville in an ACC primetime headliner. It’s the first of several big meetings between teams that are taking on the ACC’s 10-game conference schedule in 2020 trying to make a run at Clemson and play for the league title.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 19 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Cardinal Stadium — Louisville, Kentucky
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV
Because the ACC has elected to go to a 15-team, one division format with the top two teams (by winning percentage) making the ACC Championship Game in December, the pool for championship contenders has expanded. Clemson no longer stands in the way of the Atlantic Division teams, like Louisville, that believe they might be the second-best team in the conference and Coastal Division teams, like Miami, now have much more competition for a bid to the conference championship game. Throw in that Notre Dame is a member for one year only and eligible to play for and win the conference crown and 2020 is without a doubt the most exciting season of the championship game era in the ACC.
Both Miami and Louisville looked solid in their season-opening wins against Conference USA opponents, with the Hurricanes taking down UAB last Thursday and the Cardinals running past in-state rival Western Kentucky on Saturday night. With their lone nonconference game out of the way, their 10-game ACC schedules kick off this week with one of the toughest opponents they’ll each have to face all season.
Miami: The Hurricanes’ 52-27 win against Louisville was an outlier in the 2019 season. Miami scored 30 or more points just one other time against FBS competition, and that was a 42-35 loss to Virginia Tech. The Cardinals made a ton of mistakes and Jarren Williams made them pay with six touchdown passes in the rout, and for the moment it seemed like Miami’s offense had turned a corner. But the result proved to be a mirage with losses to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech before Manny Diaz decided to make a change at offensive coordinator and hit the transfer portal for a new option under center.
Enter Rhett Lashlee and his up-tempo attack with D’Eriq King leading the way, and the initial results against a solid UAB defensive front were encouraging. The Hurricanes totaled 337 rushing yards on 52 attempts (6.5 yards per carry) with three touchdowns and controlled the game by pushing the tempo and highlighting their athleticism at the skill positions. So far so good, but the offensive line still has some work to do before this new-look unit is ready to hold up its end of the bargain in making Miami an ACC title contender.
Louisville: Quarterback Micale Cunningham is on his way to being one of the most overlooked and underrated stars in this league. We throw blanket praise over the Cardinals offense because of their many weapons, from running back Javian Hawkins to wide receivers Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick, but Cunningham is more than a bus driver who gets the ball to the playmakers on time. Cunningham is budding into a dynamic playmaker in his own right, and his ability to stress defenses with the vertical passing game is going to be a headache for opposing defensive coordinators all season. Much will be made of King and his journey to becoming the Hurricanes starter, but it’s possible the best quarterback in this game is on the other sideline.
Game prediction, picks
So much of Miami’s offseason has been centered around the fact that it has changed up its offense, but this is probably the one game from 2019 when it would gladly take the kind of offensive performance fielded by the last coordinator and quarterback. From a betting perspective, you definitely factor in the revenge for Scott Satterfield and a Louisville defense that doesn’t want to get embarrassed again, particularly on their home turf in primetime. I think Louisville’s offense is more dynamic than Miami’s offense, but the Hurricanes defense is a step ahead of the Cardinals’ defense particularly when it comes to playmakers on the defensive line. The tale of the tape is a wash so I’ll take the dog in what I expect to be a shootout of a game. Pick: Miami (+2.5)