The opening week of the 2019 college football season started with a top-10 team taking on an ACC opponent — when No. 8 Florida took down Miami in Orlando — and it will conclude when the No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish invade the Bluegrass State for a Labor Day matchup with the Louisville Cardinals.
The two sides have met only once before, a 31-28 come-from-behind road win for Louisville in November 2014.
Last season was one to remember for the Irish, with a pair of 24-17 wins against marquee opponents — Michigan and USC — serving as bookends to the undefeated regular season and sending Notre Dame to its first College Football Playoff appearance in school history. The 12 wins also marked head coach Brian Kelly’s second consecutive season with double-digit wins, the first time a Notre Dame head coach had accomplished that feat since Lou Holtz did so a quarter-century ago.
The end result — a 30-3 loss at the hands of eventual national champion Clemson in the semifinal game at the Cotton Bowl — was a bitter end to an otherwise stellar campaign. Despite the NFL claiming playmakers on both sides of the ball as well as veteran leaders in the trenches, many key contributors return with hopes of filling the void left by those departures.
Louisville, on the other hand, is looking to put together the pieces after a miserable 2-10 record that was the Cardinals' first sub-.500 finish in a decade (Steve Kragthorpe’s Cardinals went 4-8 in 2009).
After a 37-point loss to then-No. 1 Alabama, the Cardinals did, to their credit, rebound with consecutive wins over Indiana State and Western Kentucky. But that’s when the freefall began. And quickly.
The Cardinals didn’t taste victory again, losing their next 10 games by an average of 31 points. The defense was the true pain point, as Louisville surrendered at least 50 points in six of its final seven games and each of its final five. Once again facing a top-10 opponent to start the season, the Cardinals will ring in the Scott Satterfield era — they lured Satterfield to Louisville from his alma mater of Appalachian State — with a College Football Playoff team on the opposing sideline.
Notre Dame at Louisville
Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -18
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Ian Book grabbed the reins in Week 4 and never looked back, leading the Irish all the way to the College Football Playoff. Now, fresh off a summer as the undisputed starter and armed with confidence gained from the Manning Passing Academy and head coach Brian Kelly naming him a captain, Book is set to pilot this Notre Dame offense to new heights.
Trailing only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa among returning Power 5 quarterbacks in 2018 completion percentage, Book will have a plethora of playmakers to target, even after the departures of running back Dexter Williams and pass catchers Miles Boykin and Nic Weishar. The Irish’s top returning receiver, Chase Claypool, started 11 games a season ago and caught 50 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, the Cardinals return seven starters, but all eyes will be on new defensive coordinator Bryan Brown. A first-year coordinator at Appalachian State last year after six seasons as the cornerbacks coach, Brown led the Mountaineers to top-10 finishes in scoring defense, passing defense and total defense.
When Louisville Has the Ball
Louisville hopes that Jawon Pass, who possesses one of the most fitting last names for a quarterback in recent memory, can improve in doing just that in his junior campaign. Last season, he completed just 54 percent of his attempts for 1,960 yards (178.1 yards passing per game) and threw 12 interceptions compared to just eight touchdowns.
Pass is listed as the starter over sophomore Malik Cunningham, a better runner but with just one-fifth of the passing attempts of the former. Satterfield might elect to use both, as his offense in Boone favored mobile quarterbacks, and with his group on the national stage in Week 1, he might pull some surprises.
Notre Dame’s defense boasts arguably the top pass-rushing duo in 2019 in defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem. Pro Football Focus credited Okwara with 40 quarterback hurries last season and Kareem with 29, and the pair combined for 23 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. They’ll be called upon to ease the pressure on the back seven, who lose Drue Tranquill, Te’von Coney and Julian Love to the NFL but return a pair of senior safeties in Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman.
Louisville owns the only win in this series, but that was against a banged-up Notre Dame team missing many key players and in the midst of the nightmare that was the second half of 2014. The Cardinals might be decent in 2019 with Satterfield’s arrival, but decent won’t be enough to topple the Irish in Week 1.
Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Louisville 10
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.