NC State football 2021 schedule countdown: No. 7, Louisville
Introducing a 12-part series in which we rank NC State’s 2021 strength of schedule from the easiest opponent (No. 12) to the most challenging (No. 1).
Checking in at No. 7 is Louisville, the Wolfpack’s eighth opponent this fall.
The Pack is scheduled to face the Cardinals in Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 30 at a time to be announced.
Head Coach: Scott Satterfield (2nd season) — 12-12 (.500)
2020 Record: 63-36
Western Kentucky — W, 35-21
Miami — L, 47-34
at Pittsburgh — L, 23-20
at Georgia Tech — L, 46-27
at Notre Dame — L, 12-7
Florida State — W, 48-16
Virginia Tech — L, 42-35
at Virginia — L, 31-17
Syracuse — W, 30-0
at Boston College — L, 34-27
Wake Forest — W, 45-21
2017 — 29th
2018 — 31st
2019 — 86th
2020 — 40th
2021 — 29th
2020 Season Review
Expectations were high for Louisville entering 2020. The Cardinals were coming off of an 8-5 season in 2019 under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield — who went 51-24 over six seasons at Appalachian State — and were voted fourth in the 2020 preseason ACC media poll.
But after winning its lone non-conference game in the season opener, Louisville lost six of its next seven contests, the lone win a lopsided home victory over a sputtering Florida State team.
The Cardinals didn't quit and saved some of their best football for the closing stretch of the season. Sitting at 2-6 in mid-November, however, the season was beyond repair.
Lousiville won two of its last three games, a 30-0 Thursday night blowout of Syracuse and a 23-point home victory over Wake Forest in the season finale. The lone loss in the closing stretch was still a strong effort, a 34-27 defeat at Boston College.
Did You Know?
•NC State is 3-7 all-time against Louisville. The Cardinals won the last meeting with a 34-20 victory in Carter-Finley Stadium in 2019.
•The Pack has only defeated the Cardinals once in Carter-Finley Stadium. The only time it happened was a 39-25 victory over U of L on a Thursday night game in 2017 against Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner and eventual NFL MVP.
The only two other victories NC State has had over Lousiville were away from home. The first was in 2011 in the Belk Bowl, a 31-24 victory in Charlotte, N.C. The second was in 2018, when the Wolfpack defeated U of L 52-10 in Louisville.
Louisville likely overachieved in 2019 in Satterfield's first year but came back down to Earth in 2020 by underachieving, particularly considering the offensive talent.
This fall, the Cardinals should be expected to be somewhere in the middle.
Louisville ranks 93rd among FBS teams in terms of overall returning production this season according to ESPN's Bill Connelly's SP+ metric. The Cards rank 61st in returning offensive production but 114th in returning production on defense.
Redshirt junior quarterback Malik Cunningham returns as U of L's leading passer and rusher. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes in 2020 for 2,617 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback also rushed for 609 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns.
Louisville lost its top two pass catchers from 2020, Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell, who combined for 1,450 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Braden Smith will be the top returning receiver after catching 27 balls for 370 yards last fall.
Fifth-year senior linebacker C.J. Avery led the team in tackles (78) and will be back. He also produced five tackles for loss, two sacks, three pass breakups, one forced fumble and one interception.
Why No. 7 In The Countdown?
Louisville will likely trend towards the bottom of the middle-of-the-road ACC teams. They'll have an experienced and talented quarterback but several questions on both sides of the ball.
The Cards lost a lot of skill talent, including last season's two leading receivers and leading rusher, running back Javian Hawkins. They also rank towards the bottom of the FBS level in terms of returning production on defense.
The meeting this fall will mark the first time Satterfield and NC State head coach Dave Doeren have faced off head-to-head since they both joined the ACC.
The bottom line: NC State has much more returning talent and also has the better roster on paper.