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Louisville Cardinals vs. Syracuse Orange Preview and Prediction

Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson

As expected, both Syracuse and Louisville come into this ACC Atlantic divisional matchup 1-0, although the Cardinals with a lot more hype and higher expectations.

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While the Orange are kicking off the Dino Babers era with optimism after a 33-7 win over Colgate, the rebuilding process in Central New York is going to take some time. Babers, in his first year with Syracuse after an impressive reclamation project at Bowling Green, comes from the Art Briles school of up-tempo offenses, which is no surprise as Babers was an offensive coordinator under the former Baylor coach.

But most eyes on this game will be focused on one player: Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

In his team's 70-14 win over Charlotte, Jackson accounted for eight touchdowns (six passing, two rushing) in the first half.

For those who don't want to do the quick math, the 48 points Jackson generated with his arm and legs in 30 minutes outdid what the entire Orange team did in 60.

So, yeah, the Cardinals are heavy favorites for a reason, but the Orange are more than capable of making this interesting for a while.

Louisville at Syracuse

Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 9 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

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Spread: Louisville -14.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Action Jackson

OK, so this is an obvious one, but the fact of the matter is that for as well as the Louisville signal-caller did against Charlotte, that game wasn't nationally televised and while the Orange are rebuilding, they are still a major conference opponent who should put up more of a fight. Or will they? In last year's Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M, Jackson racked up 453 yards of total offense and four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing). That Aggies squad, while not dominant defensively, still had more talent than the Orange currently do. Either way, people are going to want to see what the 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore can accomplish against his first ACC opponent of the season.

2. The need for speed

Babers came to Syracuse preaching and promising offensive tempo, and the Orange brought it the first week with 81 plays for 554 yards. And while that's lightning fast compared to what Syracuse is used to, it wasn't fast enough for Babers, who afterward compared his team's pace to watching paint dry. Well, at least he's staying on message. He has some positives to build on from the opening week, as quarterback Eric Dungey completed 34-of-40 passes for 355 yards and receivers Ervin Philips and Amba Etta-Tawo combined for 26 receptions. There are already some playmakers that have established themselves for the Orange, they just need to prove they can do it against an underrated Louisville defense.

3. Fields day

For as much attention as Jackson deservedly gets, the Cardinals actually have serious talent on the other side of the ball as well. Look no further than linebacker/defensive end Devonte Fields, who you will see rise up every mock draft board as the season goes on. The senior, who started his college career at TCU before a stint at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, can put his hand in the ground or stand up from inside or outside linebacker and be a menace wherever he lines up. Against Charlotte, Fields made five tackles and a sack for a loss of 12 yards. Look for Syracuse to use its tempo to try to neutralize his rush, but there's only so much one can do to slow down the 6-foot-4, 242-pounder.

Final Analysis

If history is any indicator, Syracuse will be good sooner rather than later, as Babers, even going back to his days at Eastern Illinois at the FCS level, has won everywhere he's been. Although the Orange have played just one game under him, the style of play he brings will inject some life into a program that has been largely dormant this century. However, he is still a few recruiting classes away from bringing in the type of talent that both fits his system and can keep up with the type of speed top ACC opponents have. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, on the other hand, appears to have his program in a spot where it can compete with Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic Division. Expect a lot of points, but at this stage, the team that is capable of making more stops is Louisville, and whatever initial surge the Orange bring will eventually wear down from Louisville's superior talent.

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Prediction: Louisville 48, Syracuse 27

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.