For Louisville this matchup against Alabama isn't just about trying to knock off the defending national champions, it's about accomplishing something that no team has done since Nick Saban took over the Crimson Tide.
He may be charmed with a lot of championship game victories, but ole Saint Nick has been God-like in season openers for the Tide, having won all 11 of his lid lifters, including eight of them being neutral-site games against a Power 5 team. Prior to his arrival in Tuscaloosa, you have to go back to 2001 to find a time when an Alabama team tasted defeat in its opening game (lost at UCLA that year). The Tide also have won 39 straight non-conference regular season games, dating back to an inexplicable loss to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007.
So this all has to come to an end at some point. Somewhere in our collective future Alabama will lose a game. Will lose an opener. Will lose to a non-SEC program. Will lose in the month of September...
... but it won’t be here.
Louisville vs. Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
Spread: Alabama -25
Three Things to Watch
1. Hurts or Tag? The ultimate question
Obviously, the No. 1 thing that has the whole college football world abuzz is the speculation over who will start at quarterback for the Tide, two-year starter Jalen Hurts or championship game hero Tua Tagovailoa. Nick Saban made a lot of waves earlier this week by listing BOTH players as “co-starters” on the depth chart. Well other than the obvious butt-hurt feelings for whoever ends up second string, the starter doesn’t really matter too much. The two talents combined for 28 TDs and just three picks last year. Hurts ran for 855 yards a year ago but Tagovailoa is more renown as a big-play operator and better passer. Either way, the Tide will ride on. The first three games vs. UofL, Arkansas State and Ole Miss will probably serve like an exhibition season in the NFL and will shake out the permanent starter.
2. The trash talk (?)
You might’ve seen a little bit of championship-level trash talking from the Cardinals coming into this game according to a couple of different outlets. Well it turns out they were mostly taken out of context, but you have to appreciate the confidence the Cards have going into this game. Senior tackle Lukayus McNeil came out and said he thought the Louisville's offensive line was “capable” of starting fast and dominating Alabama’s D-line. Though they lost six NFL draft picks off the defense, you know how Bama reloads (they lost seven NFL draft picks off the 2016 team and still dominated last year). The Tide still have five of their top eight D-linemen back from last year, led by Raekwon Davis. Behind them seven of the returning linebackers have starting experience due to the injury bug a year ago. This battle in the trenches will be worth watching
3. Pass vs. pass defense
Unfortunately for Louisville, Lamar Jackson ain’t gonna be walkin’ through that door again. (Wouldn’t this game be 10 times more fun if he was?) Jawon “Puma” Pass takes over under center and will have the top three receiving targets back in the fold with Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick, who combined for 147 catches and 20 touchdowns a year ago. A lot is being made out of the fact that five of the top six defensive backs for the Tide have hit the bricks. So does this mean Pass and Co. will have free reign in the Tide secondary? Oh my, no. Keep an eye on cornerback Savion Smith, who started out at LSU before becoming the top-ranked junior college recruit, and safety Patrick Surtain, who was the No. 1-rated defensive back coming out of high school last season. This game may not end up a close contest, but this part of it will be a gas to watch.
Okay, okay, I take back all the doom and gloom talk about Louisville in this game. Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino has been in this situation plenty of times before and he is a very successful football coach. His guys aren’t just going to lay down here and let Bama run roughshod on them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals give the Tide some headaches and keep it close for a couple of quarters.
But one of the facets of this game that wasn’t covered above is the Alabama running game. Otherwise known as the bread and butter to all of their butt-kickings the Tide have administered for years and years. They averaged 251 yards per game on the ground a year ago and will have all but one starter back on a dominant offensive that's ready to clear large swaths for 1,000-yard rusher Damien Harris, who looks to best his 7.4 yards per carry average. Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs also return to form an impressive stable of bash-n-dash.
Despite all the quarterback squabbling it’s the running game that will be the deciding factor.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Louisville 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.