Date/Time: October 3, 7:00 p.m. ET
Spread: Louisville -3
Thanks to a strange scheduling format, the Louisville Cardinals will play their fourth conference game of the season at the Carrier Dome on Friday night and the Syracuse Orange will play their first. The Cardinals opened the season against Miami and have already played Virginia and Wake Forest, while the Orange played former ACC member Maryland and three other non-conference opponents. The former Big East rivals meet for the first time as members of the ACC and Louisville is a three-point road favorite.
True freshman Reggie Bonnafon started in place of injured starter Will Gardner in Louisville’s sloppy 20-10 win over Wake Forest. The Cardinals defense has been great this season, holding opponents to 14 points per game, but the offense is a growing concern. The Louisville offense is averaging less than 400 yards per game under offensive mastermind Bobby Petrino and some regression was to be expected without Teddy Bridgewater, but the Cardinals are averaging 3.7 yards per carry and four quarterbacks have combined for a 56.7 percent completion rate.
The defense is in fine form. Wake Forest had 100 total yards of offense and had an ugly line of -22 in the rushing yards column. The Cardinals committed four turnovers against Virginia in a 23-21 loss, the most points that the defense has allowed this season. Expectations should be tempered for the defense because of the level of competition. Miami has plenty of problems, Murray State is a FCS team, the Virginia loss was ugly, though not on the defense, FIU is one of the country’s worst teams, and Wake Forest is a trainwreck in the early going. Todd Grantham’s defense hasn’t faced a lot of talent yet.
At times, it feels like Syracuse throws the football just to give the defense something to think about. Through four games, the Orange have two passing touchdowns and two interceptions. Terrel Hunt has six rushing touchdowns and the Orange have run for 5.7 yards per carry. The three leading rushers, Hunt, Tyson Prince-Gulley, and Adonis Ameen-Moore have 119 carries for 787 yards, a 6.6 yards per carry average. That will be their plan of attack against the Louisville defense, which has had an advantage in the trenches in all five of their games so far. Syracuse failed to run the ball effectively in their game against Notre Dame and Scott Shafer knows that it’s the key to their success.
Despite a couple of interceptions, Everett Golson picked apart the Syracuse secondary. He had just seven incompletions (five if you consider that two incompletions were caught by the other team) with a 32-of-39, 362 yards, and four touchdowns performance this past week. It was the first “bad” game for the Orange defense. Even against Maryland, when the Orange allowed a season-high 34 points, seven came as the result of a pick-six and the Orange only allowed 369 yards. Ninety of those yards came on one play. The front-seven is the strength of the Orange defense and that will be the chess match for this week against a Louisville team that also excels in the trenches.
Bobby Petrino is off to a 4-1 start straight up and 3-2 against the number in his first season in his second go-round at Louisville. Petrino was 5-7 ATS with Western Kentucky last season. The Cardinals are 1-1 ATS as a road favorite. Scott Shafer is 2-2 straight up and just 1-3 against the spread. That puts Shafer at 9-8 straight up and 9-8 ATS in his career. The Orange are 13-17-1 ATS as a home dog over the last 11 seasons.
Free College Football Pick: Syracuse Orange
Points will be at a premium in this game. Will Gardner’s status is still up in the air, but Syracuse is adept at pressuring the quarterback and his mobility is in question with a knee injury. Bonnafon is the more mobile quarterback, but the Cardinals are going to want to run the football. The Orange will want to do the same and they have a lot of efficiency in the running game. Look for the Orange to come out big in their conference opener.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.