MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — There were 176 ballots cast in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s preseason football poll this summer. Of those voters, zero picked Louisville as league champion.
The Cardinals might prove everyone wrong.
No. 9 Louisville (9-1, 6-1 ACC, No. 10 CFP) can clinch a spot in the ACC championship game against Florida State by beating Miami (6-4, 2-4) on Saturday. The Cardinals are back in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 for the first time since reaching No. 3 in Nov. 2016.
And make no mistake: The Cardinals are a juggernaut this season, ranked in the top 20 nationally in a slew of categories — among them, red zone defense (3rd), third-down defense (6th), rushing defense (9th), scoring defense (12th) and total defense (16th).
“I think the most important scenario is if we win, then we definitely help our cause,” said Louisville coach Jeff Brohm, who would seem to be one of the top contenders for national coach of the year. “I think at this point in the season, you always treat it as if you want to advance, you’ve got to win. … You need to play your best football at the end of the year.”
The math is simple: Win, and Louisville locks up second place in the ACC and a spot in the title game against the Seminoles. A loss could bring a whole slew of tiebreakers into play, depending on what other teams do over the final two weeks of the regular season.
“Louisville, very explosive on offense, very disruptive on defense … a very complete team,” Miami coach Mario Cristobal said. “A lot of good football players, and a very good opportunity for us.”
Miami is coming off a 27-20 loss to Florida State, a game where the Hurricanes saw freshman quarterback Emory Williams depart with a season-ending injury to his left arm. Williams had taken over for Tyler Van Dyke as the starter; now, it’s Van Dyke back in the first-string spot.
Van Dyke was very open this week about his struggles, how he’s sought help — talking to friends and family — to get through the slump and emerging from those conversations determined to not let his happiness be consumed by the game.
“Just got to be smarter with the football,” said Van Dyke, who has thrown 12 interceptions this season, one more than he had in his first three years at Miami combined. “I know that. Definitely learned a lot from the last five weeks, six weeks, and I’ve got to be better from it.”
Louisville is 0-6-1 all-time at Miami, and defensive back Devin Neal said it’s up to the Cardinals to bring enough energy into a road stadium to change that.
“Having energy, and the execution will take care of itself,” Neal said.
The ACC designated the schools as permanent opponents starting in 2023, and the Schnellenberger Trophy will stay with the winning team each year. The trophy features the actual western dress boots, now bronzed, worn by Coach Howard Schnellenberger when he led both programs to national prominence.
Schnellenberger was instrumental in elevating both the Miami and Louisville football programs to unprecedented heights. He was the Hurricanes’ head coach from 1979 to 1983 and in his final season led Miami to the first of its five national championships, upsetting top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Schnellenberger later became Louisville’s head coach, where he took over a moribund program in 1985 and in five years led the Cardinals to a 10-1-1 record and Fiesta Bowl triumph over nationally ranked Alabama.
In July 2023, when the trophy was announced, University of Louisville Athletics Director Josh Heird said, “Howard Schnellenberger is an iconic name in college football, but more importantly, he’s symbolic of the success and tradition that the University of Louisville and University of Miami football programs have enjoyed on the field." He added, “To celebrate the budding rivalry between the two programs with a trophy that bears his name is a fitting way to pay tribute to the contributions he made to both universities.”
It’s the home finale for Miami, which has gone 5-1 at Hard Rock Stadium this season — the loss being the game against Georgia Tech where the Hurricanes didn’t take a knee to run out the clock in the final seconds, fumbled the ball away and gave up a touchdown to lose. Miami could tie its second-best home regular-season record since moving into Hard Rock Stadium in 2008; the Hurricanes went 7-0 there in 2017 and 6-1 in 2013.
Louisville has recruited South Florida heavily for years, and it shows. The Cardinals have 16 players from the Sunshine State on their roster, 11 of them from the area spanning Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Louisville is 4-0 this season in games decided by seven points or less. No team at the FBS level, through Wednesday, had a better record in those games this season — Tulane, James Madison and Mississippi are also 4-0 in such contests. The Cardinals had a 2-10 mark in those games over the last three combined seasons.
VAN DYKE’S NUMBERS
Even with his struggles this season, Van Dyke is 148 yards shy of becoming the sixth Miami quarterback to throw for 7,000 at the school. He still has a slim chance of passing D’Eriq King for the school’s all-time lead in completion percentage; King completed 64.7% of his throws at Miami, while Van Dyke is at 63.8% and would need a very big finish of the season to move into the lead.
Miami is 11-3-1 all-time against Louisville, and this game is the first between the schools since 2020. They’re also scheduled to play at Louisville next year, then at Miami in both 2025 and 2027.