Florida State Seminoles at Louisville Cardinals, Saturday Sept. 17, Noon ET
It's funny how things work out. Before the season started, Lamar Jackson, Louisville's QB, wasn't more than a fringe player in Heisman discussions. The big boys were all lined up, and it didn't seem like there was room for any outsiders like Jackson among the blue bloods - Watson, McCaffrey, Fournette, Cook. Two weeks into the season, though, some of those guys - most notably Deshaun Watson - have faded, and Jackson is not only in the mix but the runaway leader at this early stage of things.
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It's not like he came from nowhere - he put up some very solid numbers as a freshman last year, including just short of 1,000 yards on the ground. This year, though, he has taken this Bobby Petrino offense to entirely new heights - he has thrown for seven touchdowns and run for six more in two games this year. Now, those games have only come against Syracuse and Charlotte, so he and the Cardinals haven't actually proven anything yet. People already are starting to think, though, that maybe the two-team ACC will actually turn out to be a three-team race after all. There will be no better chance for the Cards to prove that than at home in this one. This is easily the biggest game Louisville has played since joining the ACC.
Florida State at Louisville Betting Storylines
Jackson isn't exactly going to sneak up on the Seminoles. Last year he torched them for 307 yards and three touchdowns. That was by far his best passing game of the season. Florida State didn't have much of an answer for him through the air, but they didn't seem bothered. They smothered the run completely. Jackson had averaged 18.5 carries and more than 150 yards per game in the previous two outings. Against Florida State his 19 carries netted just 32 yards. Louisville lost that game by 20, and they will have to be much more diverse in their offense this time around if they seek to do better. Florida State suffered a big defensive blow that Jackson will look to exploit. Superstar safety Derwin James will be out with a knee injury. He's a dominant player who was going to be a big part of the game plan for containing Jackson. His absence certainly makes things more interesting.
If we are going to talk about one quarterback so much then we have to talk about the other as well. On paper this should be a mismatch. Jackson is seasoned and obviously in top form, and he's up against a guy making just his third career start. To date, though, Deondre Francois has been exceptional. He is a big reason that FSU pulled off the big comeback against Ole Miss - he completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 419 yards with two scores in that game. He was excellent last week in a mismatch, too, completing just a tick short of 80 percent of passes. The Seminoles still have the second-best QB situation in this game, but the gap isn't nearly as wide as it could be.
Florida State at Louisville Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Florida State favored by 3.5 points. Action pushed the line around quickly, though, and it moved through the key number of three to its current spot at two. More than 60 percent of bets have come in on Florida State, so it's clear that sharp action has been firmly on the side of the Cardinals. The total opened at 64 and has shown upward movement early on - it sits at 65.
The Seminoles are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games overall, 4-1 ATS in their last five conference games, and also 4-1 ATS in their last five against teams with winning records. They haven't carried momentum forward well, though - they are just 2-5 ATS in their last seven games following a game in which they won by 20 or more points. The Cardinals have covered their last four overall and their last four in September. They are 5-2 ATS in their last seven at home but just 2-5 ATS in their last seven conference games.
Florida State at Louisville Predictions and Picks
I really wish I had been able to hit this game at that 3.5 number. That would have been enough for me to go for the upset. At just two points, though, I have to be boring and stick with the more established elite squad in Florida State. The loss of James is huge, but they have good depth and a more diverse and trustworthy defense. They are also excellent at making adjustments and finding ways to beat an opponent. Louisville will make this a contest for sure, and I expect it to be tight, but the head says we have to take the Seminoles.
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