By Sam Draut–
The ACC announced its 2016 football schedule, firming up Louisville’s 12-game slate this fall.
Once again, the Cardinals face a front-loaded schedule, but unlike last season, the Cardinals fate in the ACC could be decided as soon as Oct. 1.
Louisville opens the season on Sept. 1 against Charlotte, the Cardinals’ only Thursday night contest of the season.
The following week, Louisville travels to Syracuse to begin ACC play.
Arguably the biggest home game of year, Louisville hosts Florida State on Sept. 17 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Florida State will be ranked in the preseason Top-25 and returns Heisman contender Dalvin Cook with the majority of the Seminole offense from a 10-3 record in 2015.
Despite leading at halftime in both games against Florida State in Louisville’s first two seasons in the ACC, the Cardinals have lost by double-digits to the ACC powerhouse. Leading 7-6 at the midway point in 2015, Louisville failed to contain Cook in the second half and Florida State routed the Cardinals 41-21 in Tallahassee, Florida.
After the highly anticipated home game, Louisville sets out on a daunting two week road trip.
First, Louisville goes up against non-conference opponent Marshall on Sept. 24. The Conference USA team finished the 2015 season 10-3.
Then the Cardinals travel to Clemson and face Heisman favorite DeShaun Watson.
More than likely, the Tigers will begin the season ranked in the top five as coach Dabo Swinney’s team looks to return to the College Football Playoff. Clemson lost to Alabama in the National Championship game and ended the year 14-1.
Louisville has been tantalizingly close in two losses to Clemson over the past two years. It took a goal-line stand in 2014 to prevent the Cardinals from winning in Memorial Stadium, and in 2015, a missed field-goal late in the fourth quarter kept Louisville from pushing Clemson to overtime.
The Oct. 1 matchup means Louisville will be playing the two favorites in the ACC Atlantic Division within the first five weeks of the season.
The first five games and final seven games are split up by a bye week in the first full week of October.
Louisville returns to action on Oct. 14 against ACC Coastal opponent Duke, the Cardinals only Friday home contest of the season.
N.C. State follows Duke on Oct. 22 as the Cardinals play a pair of home games at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Similar to 2015, Louisville ends ACC play with a soft schedule. Road trips against Virginia and Boston College in consecutive weeks are followed by Louisville’s final ACC game of the year, a home contest on Nov. 12 against Wake Forest.
Two non-conference opponents finish off the final portion of the year. Louisville’s Nov. 19 game against Houston will be challenging trip.
Cougar quarterback Greg Ward returns after leading Houston to a 13-1 record in 2015. Houston ended the year ranked eighth nationally and defeated Louisville 34-31 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in the second week of the season.
In-state rival Kentucky comes to Louisville for the annual Governor’s Cup game on Nov. 26. The Cardinals have won five consecutive games in the rivalry, last season, rallying from 21 points to win 38-24.
“This is another challenging schedule overall,” coach Bobby Petrino said in a statement. “We have six teams who played in bowl games last season and three teams that finished the year ranked in the top 25.”
Louisville returns 18 of 22 starters from its 2015 team that went 8-5 and ended the season with a 27-21 Music City Bowl win against Texas A&M.
“We have a lot of work to do before we start playing games, but with an experienced team returning, they understand the challenges ahead of them and know what kind of preparation is needed to be a successful football team,” Petrino said.