Miami-Florida (0-0) at Louisville (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Monday, September 1, 8 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium (55,000) -- Louisville, Kentucky. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Miami 0-0, Louisville 0-0. Away Record: Miami 0-0, Louisville 0-0. Neutral Record: Miami 0-0, Louisville 0-0. Conference Record: Miami 0-0, Louisville 0-0. Series Record: Miami leads, 9-2-1.
GAME NOTES: The Louisville Cardinals will jump right into the ACC fray, as they open up their 2014 season in their new conference at home on Labor Day against the dangerous Miami Hurricanes.
The Cardinals closed out the Charlie Strong era and their stint in the American Athletic Conference with a stellar 12-1 record, although their one loss, midseason to UCF, cost the team the AAC crown. Still, Louisville finished strong, including a 36-9 rout of these same Hurricanes in last year's Russell Athletic Bowl.
Strong has moved on to the University of Texas and Louisville brought back a familiar face in former coach Bobby Petrino, who looks to build on the team's best two-year run (23-3) in school history.
Al Golden continued the reclamation process at Miami last year, as the Hurricanes opened the season at 7-0 and were ranked as high as seventh in the nation. The team however, fell hard to rival Florida State (41-14) in a showdown of unbeatens and finished with a 9-3 record. Still, it marked the best ledger thus far under Golden's watchful eye and the team's ranking in midseason was its highest in nearly a decade. The result earned the team a spot in the Russell Athletic Bowl, which ended in a lopsided loss to Louisville.
Despite the loss to the Cardinals last year, the Hurricanes still hold a sizeable advantage in the all-time series at 9-2-1.
The Hurricanes' decline in the second half of the season had a lot to do with the loss of star tailback Duke Johnson (ankle injury). Through the first 7+ games, Johnson was one of the nation's premier backs, accounting for 920 yards and six touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry.
Johnson has accepted a leadership role this time around.
"It's been my goal since I've been playing football to go out every play and every game and go 100 percent, and that's what I'm going to do, and I'm going to make sure everybody else around me does the same."
The good news is that Johnson is healthy heading into the season and should be among the ACC's top playmakers in 2014. The starter at quarterback was supposed to be senior Ryan Williams (6-6, 225), but an injury in the spring will set his debut back this year. After a battle all summer, the team has named true freshman Brad Kaaya (6-4, 218) the starter over senior Jake Heaps heading into the season.
"It was a tight battle," Golden said. "It was a battle that none of us could have foresaw at the end of June or July or the beginning of camp. I'm excited about that position. In Ryan's absence, those two had a great battle. I think Kevin Olsen really improved, so I am excited about him. Right now, Brad nudged out Jake and he's our quarterback."
It will certainly aid Kaaya's learning curve to have Johnson to lean on in the running game, as well as wideouts Stacy Coley and Phillip Dorsett in the passing game. Coley earned Freshman All-America honors last year, catching 33 balls, for 591 yards and seven TDs.
The Hurricanes weren't the most feared defensive unit around last season, but with seven starters returning, including a complete secondary, there is every reason to believe in an improved unit.
Star power comes in the form of senior linebacker Denzel Perryman. The 6-0, 242-pounder thumper led the Hurricanes in tackles a year ago (108 stops), en route to some All-America accolades.
Senior defensive end Anthony Chickillo leads the way up front after posting 46 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2013.
The secondary has plenty of experience with senior Ladarius Gunter (46 tackles, three INTs), juniors Tracy Howard (35 tackles, four INTs) and Rayshawn Jenkins (46 tackles, three INTs) and sophomore Deon Bush (31 tackles, one INT).
Star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was unable to live up to the hype that followed him into 2013, but his numbers were tremendous nonetheless, as he completed 71.0 percent of his passes, for 3,970 yards, with 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Replacing one of UL's all-time greats won't be easy, although Petrino has confidence in sophomore Will Gardner. The 6-5, 226-pounder played in seven games last season and will be the team's field general heading into its ACC era.
"He (Gardner) can make all the throws you need to make," said Petrino. "He's got the arm strength. He's got a very quick release. We've got to continue to work on his footwork with his lower body, getting it in the right positions for his accuracy to be where we want it. But he's very coachable. He's a good student of the game, and he's a natural leader that the players have already learned to follow. He has no problem in leading and taking control of the offense."
Gardner does have a couple of playmakers at his disposal. The ground game will feature a pair of seniors leading the way in Dominique Brown (825 yards and eight TDs) and former Auburn Tiger Michael Dyer.
Wideout DeVante Parker was a first-team All-AAC selection last season and was scheduled to be one of the nation's top wideouts in 2014. He hauled in 55 balls a year ago, for 885 yards and 12 TDs. His 2014 campaign will be put on hold though, as a recent foot injury that requires surgery will shelve him for at least half the year. Others will need to step up in his absence.
The Cardinals led the nation in total defense a year ago, while finishing second nationally in scoring defense and fourth in pass efficiency defense. A lot of that had to do with the play of All-American DE/LB Marcus Smith, who posted 41 tackles and a nation's best 14.5 sacks.
Unfortunately, the cupboard is a bit more bare on this side of the football heading into 2014, with only four starters returning. Smith isn't the only star that has moved on to the NFL, as safety Calvin Pryor (75 tackles, three INTs) joined Smith as a first-round draft choice this past May.
The undeniable leader on defense this season should be senior LB Lorenzo Mauldin. Following in Smith's footsteps, the 6-4, 244-pound Mauldin could vie for ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors, after posting 40 tackles and 9.5 sacks last season. Other defenders that Petrino will rely on include junior linebacker James Burgess (71 tackles, 7.0 TFL, one INT) and junior cornerback Charles Gaines (22 tackles, five INTs), who earned first-team All-AAC honors a year ago.
In Petrino's first run with the team, Louisville was 22-1 at home. Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is a tough place to play. The loss of Parker though will hurt, as Gardner tries to find his groove early on. That could be just what the Hurricanes need to pull out a close one and get some revenge for last year's bowl game debacle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Miami-Florida 27, Louisville 24
09/01 08:17:09 ET