Many stars were present at the ACC Media Day, but none were as bright as Louisville Quarterback Lamar Jackson. The dual-threat junior, clad in a black suit and a short fade haircut, appeared calm and collected as he answered questions from reporters. He looked the part of an NFL quarterback, something he surely wants to achieve after this upcoming campaign. But many reporters doubt he can repeat numbers like he had in 2016, especially with how the year ended.
He very well could, if a couple things happen.
The first is that the offensive line has to hold up. In Louisville’s final three games, he was sacked 22 times. Two of the final three games were against defenses in the top 15, but after seeing the box score from Florida State and Clemson earlier in the season, it looked like a totally different team. In those two games, only six were allowed. Inexperience held the Cards back. Eight freshmen or sophomores were listed in 2016’s depth chart for the line. It’s the same story in 2017. Six freshmen or sophomores are listed on the depth chart, with two freshmen starting. One of them,is Left Guard Cole Bentley, the four-star recruit from Belfrey High School in West Virginia. Standing at 6’3” and 316lbs., Bentley is an intimidating figure. College ball is different than High School, so he will have to look to Left Tackle Geron Christian and JUCO transfer LG Linwood Foy for assistance.
Jackson won’t even come close to repeating if the line does not hold up. If it does, and he has time to throw, then anything’s a possibility. He could choose to pass, where Louisville has multiple weapons; hand it off to former QB Reggie Bonnafon, or take it out himself. If the line doesn’t, 2017 will resemble more of the final three games than the first five of 2016.
The other area working for Louisville more is a far easier schedule than last. The Strength of Schedule eased from 14th to 57th. Many of Louisville’s ACC opponents lost multiple key pieces defensively, including Clemson. The Tigers lost linebacker Ben Boulware, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, and Safety Jadar Johnson. The favorite to also win the coastal division, North Carolina, also are listed on the schedule, but were ranked 63rd in total defense last season. If the line does its job, Jackson utilizes all of his tools, and takes advantage of the easier schedule in 2017, then there may be another red blazer in New York for the Heisman presentation.