The final three games of Louisville football’s 2016 season proved costly. After starting 7-1, the Cardinals finished the year on a three-game losing streak. They were manhandled on the road at Houston, edged out at home by a mediocre Kentucky squad, and embarrassed by Louisiana State in the Citrus Bowl. Louisville plummeted in the national polls, and quarterback Lamar Jackson’s Heisman prospects took a hit.
Fortunately for Jackson, he had convinced enough voters early in the season to earn their vote come December. At 19 years, 338 days old, he became the youngest player to ever win the Heisman Trophy. With two years left of eligibility, Jackson could very well find himself at the podium once more. Analysts, however, don’t see it that way.
Prior to the season, guys like Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, and Saquon Barkley were slotted to finish ahead of the Louisville quarterback in this year’s Heisman voting. Jackson’s reelection campaign was hardly discussed by college football pundits.
But the writers are just playing the odds. It has been 41 years since a player has repeated as the Heisman winner. Not even Tim Tebow, Jameis Winston, or Johnny Manziel could do it.
Yet Jackson is a different breed. He’s a running back in a quarterback’s body. And he’s showing more pocket presence and poise than ever in 2017. Through two games, he has racked up a total of 1,010 yards of offense. Not to mention that his completion percentage is only a shade under 65—more than eight percent higher than last season. Last year, Jackson looked like a superb athlete. This time around, he looks like a fantastic quarterback.
Still, no matter who it is, one guy can’t carry a team—especially in the ACC.
1. Clemson (2-0) (AP Poll: No. 3)
It looks like Kelly Bryant learned a thing or two, sitting behind Deshaun Watson for a couple of years. The junior hasn’t put up the kind of stats his predecessor did, but he sure has shown similar awareness and play-making ability. In what was considered Clemson’s first test of 2017, Bryant orchestrated a pair of long touchdown drives to propel the Tigers past No. 13 Auburn. Even more impressive was the Clemson defense. The unit shut down its SEC foe. For the second week in a row, the Tigers held their opponents to 120 yards or less of total offense and no touchdowns. People forget that Clemson finished eighth in total defense last season.
2. Florida State (0-1) (AP Poll: No. 11)
Florida State’s game against Louisiana-Monroe was canceled on Saturday, due to Hurricane Irma. It would have been nice for head coach Jimbo Fisher’s group to get an easy win against a team outside of the Power Five. But that being said, the cancellation only gives quarterback James Blackman more time to prepare for ACC competition. All in all, FSU will have to wait two more weeks before playing its next game, after the Seminoles’ Sept. 16 matchup against Miami was rescheduled for mid-October.
3. Miami (1-0) (AP Poll: No. 17) ↑ 1
Like FSU, Hurricane Irma has thrown a wrench into Miami’s original schedule. The Hurricanes’ non-conference game against Arkansas State on Saturday was also cancelled. And because their bout with the Seminoles has been postponed, Miami won’t play another game until Sept. 23, when Toledo comes to town. Without playing a game this week, Miami moves up to the No. 3 spot. It may not have the same offensive firepower as Louisville, but it has a defense that can compete with any team in the conference. Come November, that’ll be more important than flashy highlight-reel touchdowns.
4. Louisville (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 14) ↓ 1
For the second-consecutive week, Louisville found itself in a one-possession game in the fourth quarter. Except this time, they were trailing. Per usual, Jackson had to bail his team out. The junior put up 20 points in the final frame, and the Cardinals escaped Chapel Hill with a victory. Jackson logged 525 total yards of offense and six touchdowns on the afternoon. But he’s not the only one that’s torched the North Carolina defense this year. Last week, California quarterback Ross Bowers aired out for 363 yards and four touchdowns against the Tar Heels. And that was the sophomore’s collegiate debut. Don’t get me wrong, 705 yards of total offense is remarkable. But it has to be taken with a grain of salt. It also overshadows Louisville’s own defensive deficiencies. In both games this season, the Cardinals have conceded at least 28 points.
5. Virginia Tech (2-0) (AP Poll: No. 16)
Unlike most ACC teams, Virginia Tech played a non-conference heavyweight in Week One. But this past weekend, the Hokies got their chance to feast on an FCS team. Josh Jackson continued to show promise, tossing two more touchdowns in VT’s 27-0 victory over Delaware. But not everything went well on offense. The Hokies only managed 303 yards, in large part due to a non-existent running game. That being said, the unit didn’t have to clutter the statline, thanks to the guys on the other side of the ball. VT only allowed 223 yards of total offense—369 less than they did against the Mountaineers—on Saturday. Barring any unexpected injuries, the Hokies should cruise by both East Carolina and Old Dominion in the upcoming weeks.
6. Georgia Tech (1-1)
It took four quarters and two overtime periods to decide Georgia Tech’s season opener against No. 23 Tennessee. But on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets’ game against Jacksonville State was over before the fourth quarter even started. Following a sluggish first half, GT poured on 20 points in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. Unlike Tennessee, Jacksonville State came up with a plan to limit Yellow Jackets quarterback TaQuon Marshall on the ground. But the Gamecocks didn’t account for his throwing ability. Of Marshall’s seven pass attempts, three went for touchdowns. Even more encouraging was the Yellow Jackets’ defense. Last week, GT couldn’t buy a stop in the second half. That wasn’t the case against Jacksonville State. The Yellow Jackets held the Gamecocks to just three points in the latter portion of play.
7. Duke (2-0) ↑ 1
Duke scored 60 points and allowed just 158 yards of total offense in its Week One rout of North Carolina Central. Saturday’s game against Northwestern was nothing less of an encore. Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones passed for 305 yards and a pair of scores. He also led the team with 108 rushing yards and an additional two touchdowns. Duke was just as dominant on the other side of the ball. The Blue Devils held the Wildcats to 198 yards of total offense. Time and time again, Duke forced Northwestern to punt. The Wildcats only had one third-down conversion. That in itself is a recipe for disaster. At this rate, the Blue Devils will be drawing national attention in no time.
8. North Carolina State (1-1) ↓ 1
After one quarter of play, North Carolina State had its fans holding their breath. Down 10-3 to Marshall, the Wolfpack needed to get back on track. Fortunately for head coach Dave Doeren, they did just that. Like last week, NC State relied heavily on its passing game. Ryan Finley answered the call, completing more than 80 percent of his passes for 341 yards and a trio of touchdowns. The Wolfpack may be back to .500, but there are still some major concerns. NC State is sporadic in the run game to say the least. Defensively, the Wolfpack is getting eaten alive on the backend. For the second-consecutive week, an opposing wide receiver has dissected their secondary. This time it was Marshall’s Tyre Brady—the Miami transfer hauled in 11 catches for 258 yards and a score.
9. Wake Forest (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
John Wolford is the most experienced quarterback in the ACC. He looked the part against Boston College on Saturday. Drive after drive, he methodically moved the ball down the field, using both his arm and his legs. The senior never tried to do too much with the ball. He simply took what the Eagles’ defense gave him. But Wolford didn’t do it all. In fact he got a lot of help—mainly from BC. Redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown threw three picks, and Eagles running back Jonathan Hilliman fumbled inside the 30-yard line. The four turnovers led to 21 Wake Forest points. It was hard to tell if BC gave this game away, or if the Demon Deacons took it from them. Regardless, a blowout win on the road is about as good of a start to ACC play as you can ask for.
10. Pittsburgh (1-1) ↓ 1
The score of Pittsburgh’s 33-14 loss to Penn State was awfully deceptive. The Panthers controlled the clock, holding the ball for more than 38 minutes of play. Additionally, Pittsburgh ran 82 plays and outgained the No. 4 team in the country by 30 yards. The problem was, it couldn’t finish drives. On three separate occasions, quarterback Max Browne orchestrated 15-play drives. The result? One field goal. Browne struggled all day. The Southern California transfer completed less than 60 percent of his passes and turned the ball over twice. He eventually left the game because of a gash under his eye. Backup Ben Dinucci took over and led the Panthers’ lone touchdown drive. Without Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh’s offense has clearly regressed. There might just be a quarterback controversy in Oakland, Pa.
11. North Carolina (0-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast)
As soon as North Carolina lost its season opener to California last week, the Tar Heels were counted out against No. 14 Louisville. UNC gave everyone, including the Cardinals, a surprise on Saturday. The Tar Heels hung around all day, and even led after three quarters of play. But the final frame went to Jackson and Louisville, dropping UNC to 0-2. Offensively, the Tar Heels looked much improved from the week before. Both quarterbacks—Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt—combined for 384 yards passing and three touchdowns. On the other hand, the Tar Heels defense looked lost. Like last week, the unit gave up more than 450 yards. Only this time, it was a lot more than 450. UNC allowed a total of 705 yards of offense—525 to Jackson alone—on the day.
12. Boston College (1-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast)
Saturday was a must win for BC. The Eagles were hosting Wake Forest—a team that they have defeated twice in the past three years—to open conference play. From there on out, the schedule was just going to get more difficult, with Notre Dame and Clemson on tap for the next two weeks. BC had a chance to start 2-0, and it blew it. Brown didn’t have control of the game from the minute he stepped on the field. The redshirt freshman was intercepted three times and looked extremely uncomfortable in the pocket, both overthrowing and underthrowing receivers. Still, BC’s biggest concern is its offensive line. Without four of the team’s top-six offensive linemen, the Eagles up-tempo offense is severely inhibited.
13. Syracuse (1-1)
I was ready to relegate BC to the No. 13 spot. Then, Syracuse lost to Middle Tennessee. So much for a prolific offense. The Orange recorded just 308 yards of total offense against the Blue Raiders. Quarterback Eric Dungey averaged 4.3 yards per pass attempt and was picked off once. The run game was stagnant too. Aside from Dungey, no Syracuse rusher eclipsed the 30-yard mark. Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill led three-straight touchdown drives in the latter part of the second half to propel his team past Syracuse. Good for Middle Tennessee head coach Scott Shafer though. The former Orange coach finally ended up on the right side of things in the Carrier Dome.
14. Virginia (1-1)
With close to eight minutes remaining in the first half of Saturday’s game against Indiana, Virginia led 3-0. Then, reality set in. The Hoosiers went on to outscore the UVA, 34-14, in the last two and a half quarters of play. Cavaliers quarterback Kurt Benkert threw 66 passes in the defeat. He had no choice. UVA couldn’t the run the ball—already a theme of this young season. As a team, the Cavaliers have combined for just 147 rushing yards this year. So far, UVA has struggled to move the ball on the ground against FCS William and Mary and an Indiana defense that gave up 292 rushing yards to Ohio State in Week One. Who knows what the statline will look like when the Cavaliers start playing ACC opponents.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor