Second ranked Florida State has a 23-game winning streak, but both that streak and its quest for a second straight national championship are in jeopardy at Louisville Thursday night.
The second ranked team in the country and defending national champions could be in jeopardy of having their 23-game winning streak snapped Thursday night when those Florida State Seminoles (7-0, 1-6 ATS) pay a visit to the Louisville Cardinals (6-2, 5-3 ATS) in what is expected to be a frenzied weeknight environment at Papa John's Stadium in Louisville, KY at 7:30 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The posted line at Pinnacle Sports for this contest is Louisville +3½ at current odds of -106.
Toughest Test to Date?
This Florida State team is not nearly as strong as the team that went undefeated last year and won every game by double-digits before finally being challenged for the first time in the last ever BCS Championship Game by Auburn. This 2014 version of the Seminoles has already won three games by just single-digits, the most recent being while edging Notre Dame at home 31-27 with the help of a late offensive pass interference call on the Fighting Irish.
Furthermore, none of those Florida State close calls have come on the road, as the Noles needed overtime to beat Clemson 23-17 also at home in Tallahassee and they had trouble putting away Oklahoma State 37-31 back on opening week on a neutral field in Arlington.
Meanwhile, Louisville is now fully healthy on offense for the first time all year and its defense is one of the best in the country and is almost certainly the best defense that Florida State will face all year. Add in a raucous weeknight home crowd in prime time on national television spurring on a team that is actually good enough to compete with the Seminoles, and all the ingredients seem to be in place for a college football pick outright upset!
Still, as long as this point spread stays above a field goal, we will take the safer route and just back Louisville ATS, although you would get no argument from us if you opt for the Cardinals on the Money Line instead.
Seminoles Overvalued All Year
Florida State has gone from pulverizing all opponents and seemingly covering spreads at will last season to going 1-6 ATS this year with the lone cover coming vs. a pitiful Wake Forest team that would have trouble beating some top-tier FCS schools this season. And it is not as if the Noles have faced a taxing schedule, as besides the three legitimate opponents that they beat by single-digits, the other three non-covers were vs. NC State, Syracuse and The Citadel!
They are now facing a Louisville team that is better than those three relative cupcakes and also probably better than Oklahoma State, and this time the Seminoles are doing so in true hostile territory. And they are facing a team that has a superior defense, which is the biggest difference between this year’s FSU team and the 2013 national champions.
You see, beside a powerful offense, Florida State led the country in fewest points allowed with 12.1 per game and ranked third in total defense allowing just 282.1 yards per game last season. However, the Noles lost much of that defensive talent and now this year have slipped to 53rd in total defense allowing 374.4 yards per contest with their points per game allowed also rising to 21.6!
Louisville Leads Country in Total Defense
On the other hand, Louisville leads the country in total defense allowing a mere 245.1 yards per game, and this team has no weakness on that side of the ball leading the country in rushing defense while allowing a miniscule 2.3 yards per rush and ranking 10th in passing defense surrendering just 5.3 yards per pass attempt.
If you are concerned about the Cardinals’ schedule, consider that they also lead the country in both raw defensive efficiency and in DFEI, which is schedule-adjusted defensive efficiency, according to footballoutsiders.com. Then again not much validation should be necessary considering Louisville went into Death Valley and nearly upset Clemson, holding the Tigers to just 229 yards in the 23-17 defeat.
So we have very little doubt that the Cardinals will contain the offense of Jameis Winston & Co. here, so the question becomes can the Louisville offense score enough points to win, or more importantly to cover?
As mentioned earlier, that offense is now healthy with leading receiver DeVante Parker finally making his seasonal debut in a 30-18 win over NC State last week and promptly catching nine passes for 132 yards in his first game of the year, starting quarterback Will Gardner returning from injury two games ago in that Clemson game and running back Michael Dyer rediscovering his old Auburn form while rushing for 173 yards in his fourth game of the year last week.
Karlos Williams Now Questionable
Finally, on the heels of the recent Jameis Winston controversy at Florida State, now news has come out in the last few days that running back Karlos Williams is being investigated for domestic assault and is questionable for this contest. Frankly, we do not think it would matter because we feel the Louisville defense is good enough to shut down the FSU running game with or without Williams, and we may even prefer he plays to possibly make Louisville a better price.
Regardless, we have every belief in the world that Louisville will win this game straight up and probably hand the Seminoles a loss that would knock them out of the College Football Playoff, but with that said we recommend taking the points with the Cardinals as long as the line is at least +3½ at home on ESPN Thursday night.
College Football Pick: Louisville +3½ (-106)