By Derek DeBurger

Louisville will make history on Saturday as they play the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles in their first ACC championship game (and first-ever conference championship game) in program history.

The Cards and the Noles actually have a back-and-forth rivalry; since Louisville joined the ACC in 2014, they stand at a 4-5 record all-time in matchups.

A team above the rest

This has been said numerous times this year, but Florida State is probably the best team Louisville will face this year and it’s not really close. Nearly every position you look at FSU has the advantage. Even with star quarterback Jordan Travis being out for the year with a leg injury, backup Tate Rodemaker is just as capable. Rodemaker replaced Travis against Louisville last season and led the Noles to a comeback victory in Louisville’s home stadium. While he didn’t look amazing against Florida, his natural tools and an extra week to practice with the starters should be sufficiently scary to Jeff Brohm, Ron English, and the rest of this Cardinals coaching staff.

A hit on all positions

Speaking of the starters, FSU is loaded at every position. Their running back, Trey Benson, is one of the best in the ACC and possesses a diverse skillset. He can break a long run just as easily as he can move a pile to score at the goal line. With 14 rushing touchdowns on the year, Benson is the home run hitter for the Seminoles.

In front of him comes one of the best offensive lines in the country. They’re big, fast, and physical. The O-line group does an excellent job bullying defenders on run blocks and has a ton of practice in pass blocking on a scramble drill thanks to Travis. Louisville has gone up against some of the best O-lines in the country multiple times this year, and each time they’ve punched above their weight with their defensive output.

In the passing game, the Noles have weapons-galore. The receiving corps is highlighted by Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson. Coleman can do almost anything you ask of him, and he can do it against virtually every coverage. Wilson is a massive, unforgettable 6’7” wide receiver who can abuse defenders one-on-one. Wilson is fast and physical and probably holds a special place in the nightmares of Louisville fans as he caught the game-winning touchdown from Rodemaker in last year’s contest. Corner Jarvis Brownlee, Quincy Riley, and Storm Duck will have their hands full trying to slow down these two.

Across the middle is one of the best safety blankets a quarterback could ask for in South Carolina transfer Jaheim Bell. Bell is the prototype of a modern star tight end in the NFL: he’s big, athletic, can block, and is just as talented in open space (if not more) than a good wide receiver. He poses a unique threat that the Cards haven’t really had to deal with this year, so it’ll be interesting to see how the linebackers handle him.

A highly touted defense

The defense is arguably scarier than the already terrifying offense. FSU ranks 11th and 20th in the country in opposing points and yards per game respectively. The best player on this defense is Jared Verse, who decided to return to college for his final year instead of entering the NFL draft. He leads a dominant front seven that is highlighted by fantastic edge rushers. The secondary for this Seminoles team may be better than the front seven, however, as they lead the country in pass breakups.

This defense does have weaknesses — big plays. Despite being 20th in the country in defensive yards per game, the Noles rank 67th in rushing yards per game and 27th in passing yards per game. The Noles are prone to not filling up running games and giving up massive plays in the passing game, both things Louisville has hit on this season.

This game is going to be extremely tough, but it’s still a very winnable game. Brohm is known for his ability to get his players up for big games and pull-off upsets. His record against top-five teams is 3-2, and this team believes that there is no situation the Cards can’t come back from to win.

I’m not necessarily expecting a win, but I know there’s a real chance the Cards will be hoisting their first-ever conference championship trophy.

File Photo // Tate Luckey, The Louisville Cardinal