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No. 1 Alabama looks like same old Tide in romp over Louisville

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The last we saw these Crimson Tide, Tua Tagovailoa used his electrifying, unorthodox style to team with a group of young, athletic wide receivers to lead an astonishing comeback past Georgia to win the national championship. Nine months later, not much has changed. No. 1 Alabama opened the year with yet another neutral site romping, blowing out Louisville 51-14 in Orlando.

The win was Alabama’s 74th straight over an unranked opponent, an AP poll record.

Nick Saban finally, officially deemed the sophomore Hawaiian has his starting quarterback just before the top-ranked Crimson Tide kicked Saturday night, and it was immediately evident why. Alabama accepted the ball to open the game and immediately moved 65 yards in seven snaps, reaching pay dirt on an 11-yard strike from Tagovailoa to Jerry Jeudy.

The Tide’s next drive ended prematurely when a Tagovailoa connection to Devonta Smith (the fellow sophomore on the receiving end of Tagovailoa’s golden rainbow last January) ended in a fumble at the Louisville 17-yard line. No matter, Alabama forced a three-and-out and then marched 55 yards in six plays, scoring on a 9-yard Tagovailoa rush, pushing their lead to 14-0 at the 4:04 mark of the first quarter.

Louisville threatened to get on the scoreboard on the ensuing possession, but Jawon Pass was intercepted by Deionte Thompson, one of five new starters in Alabama’s defensive backfield, in the end zone. After a 25-yard return, Alabama was inside Louisville’s 10-yard line three plays later, thanks largely to a 49-yard rainbow from Tagovailoa to true freshman Jaylen WaddleNajee Harris gave Alabama a 21-0 lead three plays later.

If there was one weak point for Alabama in the first half — and you know a sect of Tide fans is looking for one — it’s that Jalen Hurts played two second quarter series and the Tide didne’t score on either of them. The junior’s two series covered a combined 52 yards but both ended in punts.

Alabama seemed content to take a 3-touchdown lead into the break, but Waddle broke free for a 31-yard punt return to the Louisville 25 with 27 ticks left in the half, and Tagovailoa returned to capitalize in the form of his second touchdown pass to Jeudy of the night with nine seconds remaining in the half, staking the Tide to a 28-0 lead at the break.

Louisville finally got on the board at the 6:27 mark of the third quarter when Jawon Pass found tight end Kemari Averett for a 12-yard touchdown pass, but the Cardinals never seriously threatened the Tide. Josh Jacobs scored twice for Alabama in the second half, first on an 18-yard rush, then on a 77-yard kickoff return, and Shyheim Carter pushed the Tide over the half-a-hundred mark with a 45-yard pick six midway through the fourth quarter. Pass again connected with Averett for an 8-yard score to complete the scoring with 1:55 to play.

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: The ACC

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It was not so long ago ACC commissioner John Swofford set the public challenge to the entire conference to step up their game on the big stage when the opportunities to impress and change the narrative about the ACC as a whole was needed. Fast-forward a few years, and the ACC has done just that. Heading into the 2018 season, the ACC is in position to once again make a solid case for being considered the top conference in the sport.

Leading the way once again should be Clemson, with Dabo Swinney looking to take the Tigers to a fourth straight postseason berth. The Tigers begin the season ranked second in the major polls (and sitting on top of our own CFT Top 25), which has become the new norm for the three-time defending ACC champions. The biggest question Clemson seems to have is who should play quarterback, but that should not get in the way of what Clemson’s season could yield. Whether it is Kelly Bryant or Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers offense should continue humming right along to the ACC Championship Game, with a playoff spot within sight for a fourth consecutive season. Only Alabama has a longer streak of playoff appearances going, as Clemson is well aware after playing the Crimson Tide each of the past three years, including twice in the national championship and last year’s semifinal round. Clemson wasn’t quite up to par to take on eventual national champion Alabama last year, but this year’s Tigers will grow from that experience and thrive behind arguably the nation’s top defensive line starring Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, and Christian Wilkins.

If Clemson is the model of consistency in the ACC, then Miami is the program looking to prove last year was not a fluke. Mark Richt took Miami to its first appearance in the ACC Championship Game in his second season on the job, but Miami’s playoff bubble burst by losing the final game of the regular season at Pitt and then against Clemson in the conference championship. Miami’s season ended with a third straight loss in the Orange Bowl against Wisconsin so the ‘Canes will look to take their turnover chain swag and shrug off a rough ending to the 2017 season. Miami’s offense may still have room for improvement even with Malik Rosier returning at quarterback, but the defense should make Miami a formidable foe once again. With Shaq Quarterman and Jaquan Johnson leading the defense, the Hurricanes will look for an early statement to start off the year in the season opener against LSU in Arlington. If Miami beats LSU, then the Hurricanes will be in great position to flirt with an undefeated regular season once again, at least until a showdown in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech in mid-November.

Justin Fuente has done well with the Hokies, although he will have one of his youngest teams yet hoping to make a run in the ACC Coastal Division this fall. That may not be a tremendous setback given how the schedule will allow for that talent to come together and find their groove before the bulk of the ACC schedule (Virginia Tech opens on the road at Florida State though). Virginia Tech should be a team that improves as the season plays on, and they could be a team capable of knocking Miami out of the ACC title hunt. At the very least, Virginia Tech could be Miami’s biggest division threat, although nobody should ever underestimate a Georgia Tech team returning nine offensive starters, including senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall, this could be one of those years Georgia Tech makes something happen. The Yellow Jackets could pull a pivotal conference upset with home games against Clemson and Miami.

This could be a year of lower expectations at programs like Louisville (so long Lamar Jackson and nearly everyone on defense, but hello wide receiver Jaylen Smith) and NC State (although the Wolfpack do have Ryan Finley at QB, but like Louisville, nearly everyone on defense is gone, including Bradley Chubb). And a program like Boston College (perhaps the best Steve Addazio has coached yet with nine returning offensive starters including sophomore running back stud AJ Dillon and a strong defensive ability). Syracuse might even sniff a bowl game, while North Carolina and Virginia could have tough paths to the postseason.

And, of course, Florida State is coming in with some new energy provided by new head coach Willie Taggart. Expecting the Seminoles to flip a switch and dethrone Clemson may be premature this season, but after a rough 2017 season, Taggart may be just the guy to turn the page as Florida State begins bouncing back to being what you expect from Florida State. Having running back Cam Akers sure helps. The defense may not have all of the pieces in place just yet with so much roster turnover, but the defensive line is solid with senior Demarcus Christmas and potential breakout player Marvin Wilson. Florida State won’t stay down for long, but making a serious run at Clemson in 2018 may not be likely. 2019, however, could be a different story.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

ACC ATLANTIC DIVISION

  1. Clemson
  2. Florida State
  3. NC State
  4. Louisville
  5. Boston College
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Syracuse

ACC COASTAL DIVISION

  1. Virginia Tech
  2. Miami
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Georgia Tech
  5. Duke
  6. North Carolina
  7. Virginia

IN SHORT…

Louisville loses one RB to injury, another to transfer

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Louisville’s depth at running back looks a bit more shallow this week than it did last week. On the same day it was reported one running back may have suffered a season-ending injury, another confirmed where he is heading as a transfer.

Redshirt sophomore Tobias Little suffered a knee injury in a recent practice, according to a release from the Louisville athletics department, although what knee was injured was not disclosed. Louisville anticipates Little will be forced to miss the 2018 season as a result, although the school has not officially announced that will be the end result.

In addition, Harry Trotter announced he is officially on the move to Kansas State as a transfer. Trotter announced his intent to transfer over the weekend. He will be a preferred walk-on at Kansas State. Trotter will not be eligible to play for Kansas State until 2019, but he will have two years of eligibility to use with the Wildcats.

As a sophomore last season, Trotter appeared in eight games but got just four rushing attempts for 27 yards and a kickoff return for a gain of 13 yards. Little, also a sophomore last fall, made appearances in nine games and had nine rushing attempts for 27 yards. He also had one reception for a gain of 24 yards.

Of course, Louisville’s running game was led by quarterback Lamar Jackson and a senior duo of Malik Williams and Reggie Bonnafon left for few carries to spread around to younger options on the roster. Dae Williams, a freshman last season, managed to receive 38 rushing attempts, however.

Louisville WR: Every one of our WRs can beat every one of Alabama’s DBs

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Louisville lost Lamar Jackson to the NFL, but the remaining Cardinals have not suffered a lack of confidence without their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Or at least not Cardinals wideout Dez Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick (above, left) appeared at Louisville’s media day on Saturday and declared his Cardinals wide receiving corps could match up with Alabama’s secondary man-for-man.

“Every receiver in our receiver corps can honestly beat every one of their DBs one-on-one in coverage,” Fitzpatrick said. “It ties into the other stuff, if the blocks are right, if the quarterback’s drop is right, we ran eight-yard routes instead of a 10-yard route, that’s the kind of stuff I feel like we need to sharpen up.

“But I feel like straight talent-wise, I feel like we have the upper edge against their secondary, 1,000 percent.”

Fitzpatrick was Louisville’s second-leading receiver as a redshirt freshman, hauling in 45 grabs for 699 yards with nine touchdowns. Senior Jaylen Smith led the Cards a year ago with 60 receptions for 980 yards and seven scores, and No. 3 receiver, junior Seth Dawkins, is also back. Alabama underwent a wholesale change in its defensive secondary — cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Levi Wallace and star Tony Brown graduated, while safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison declared early for the NFL. The Tide also lost defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley.

But the most important piece of Alabama’s pass defense is back, and that’s Nick Saban. New coordinator Tosh Lupoi and new defensive backs coach Karl Scott are expected to plug-and-play a new unit that will still rank among the best in college football.

But not good enough to shut down Louisville and its new quarterback, Jawon Pass, at least according to Fitzpatrick.

A game with a 31-point spread just became slightly more interesting.

Louisville’s All-ACC WR Jaylen Smith has emergency appendectomy

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Louisville opened fall camp on Friday but did so without one of their best players after a rather scary medical situation.

According to a school release, All-ACC wide receiver Jaylen Smith underwent an emergency appendectomy earlier in the day and will be out for an undetermined amount of time as he recovers.

“We are fortunate to catch this early and anticipate a full recovery,” head coach Bobby Petrino said in a statement. “Jaylen is doing well and we look forward to him returning to the practice field as soon as possible.”

Much of the attention on the Cardinals’ football team the past few months has centered on quarterback Jawon Pass replacing Heisman-winner Lamar Jackson but it might be Smith who is the top offensive weapon for Petrino in 2018. He was named a first-team All-ACC pick last season after finishing with 980 yards and seven touchdowns and enters the upcoming campaign averaging 16.9 yards per catch since playing early as a freshman.

The appendectomy is even tougher news for Smith as it not only occurred at the start of camp, but happens just a day after his birthday this week. Thankfully it sounds like he’ll be able to get back to 100 percent soon but it is not exactly the kind of news that you want to hear if you’re a Louisville fan this week after a rough offseason.