LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville is out with its 2017 football schedule, and it isn’t quite as front-loaded as it was a year ago, when the games against Clemson and Florida State were over in the first month of the season.

The Cardinals have a bit better spacing in this schedule, but it isn’t without issues.

Unless they win the Atlantic Division of the ACC, it’s unlikely to be the kind of schedule that allows the Cardinals to be playoff contenders. Non-conference games against Kent State and Murray State don’t do much for the playoff resume.

But Lamar Jackson putting up big numbers and the offense re-firing after a disappointing finish could mitigate that.

Whatever the playoff value of this schedule, the entertainment value should be high, with an opener against Purdue, a home opener against Clemson and road games at Florida State, Wake Forest and Kentucky.

Let’s take a way-too-early run through next season’s schedule (2016 record in parentheses):

PURDUE (3-9), Sept. 2, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis. The intrigue of this one, of course, was ramped up when Jeff Brohm was hired as coach of the Boilermakers on Dec. 5. Brohm has become one of the top up-and-coming offensive coaches in the game, and he’ll face one of the top returning offenses in college football, led by the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Brohm is on a roll in refining young quarterbacks into passing machines, and he has a couple of good candidates in 2016 starter David Blough, and former Caldwell County standout Elijah Sindelar. Expect a shootout in this one, with Louisville having the edge in ammo, and Lamar Jackson an impressive statistical start.

NORTH CAROLINA (8-5), Sept. 7, Chapel Hill. The ACC likes to get things going early, and this game looked a lot tougher before some high-profile NFL defections for the Tar Heels. They finished last season 8-5 after a 25-23 loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl. They will be in a bit of a transition after QB Mitch Trubisky declared for the NFL Draft, as did running back Elijah Hood. They also lose a talented receiving trio in Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins. North Carolina will be looking to figure out its running back position in spring practice, and will have to hope a competition between sophomore-to-be Nathan Elliot and freshman Chazz Surratt, a former 4-star recruit, to produce a new quarterback. Louisville should benefit from catching North Carolina early.

CLEMSON (14-1), Sept. 16, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The defending national champions will open home play for the Cardinals, minus some of their stars of 2016, but still dangerous, particularly on defense, where Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are still in place on the line, though the Tigers have big offensive holes to fill. This could well be another College GameDay candidate if Louisville takes care of business early in the season. Louisville has played well in three meetings against Clemson as a member of the ACC, and needs to get over the hump.

KENT STATE (3-9), Sept. 23, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Golden Flashes went just 3-9 last season, losing five of their final six games. Louisville will be the fourth straight non-conference game for Kent State to open the season, including its opener at Clemson and playing at Marshall the week before. 

MURRAY STATE (4-7), Sept. 30, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Racers were excited about the news that defensive back Rico McGraw has transferred from Georgia. His younger brother, Mareio McGraw, led the Racers’ in rushing in 2016 with 571 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman. Murray added Old Dominion transfer Shuler Bentley at quarterback this month. None of this matters. Cards should roll. And roll. And roll.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE (7-6), Oct. 5, Raleigh, N.C. This is slated for a Thursday night national television broadcast. The Wolfpack return 16 starters from a team that was very close in a handful of games last season, but taking that next step in the Atlantic Division will be difficult. If coach Dave Doeren and his team are off to a good start, this national showcase game could make for another Thursday night challenge for the Cardinals, who struggled in that spotlight last season at Houston. 

BOSTON COLLEGE (7-6), Oct. 14, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Eagles are rebuilding on both sides of the line, and have to come to Louisville. With luck, Cardinal fans will get a late kickoff and a nice day for tailgating.

FLORIDA STATE (10-3), Oct. 21, Tallahassee, Fla. This is where things get tricky. The Seminoles are one of the favorites to win the College Football Playoff championship, have quarterback Deondre Francois in his second season and plenty of weapons. They also have the memory of last season’s 63-20 beatdown in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. At least Louisville gets some lead time before this game, and isn’t facing it early in the season. It should give time for the Cards’ defense to develop — developing enough to win at Florida State is a tough task.

WAKE FOREST (7-6), Oct. 28, Winston-Salem, N.C. The Wakeyleaks Bowl. Enough awkwardness to fill a stadium. Either Wake Forest will want to get back at Louisville for having its plays a year ago, or Louisville will want to get back at Wake Forest for turning it in. Regardless, last year’s closer-than-expected game for three quarters means playing at Wake on the road a week after visiting Tallahassee is no game to overlook.

VIRGINIA (2-10), Nov. 11, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Second-year coach Bronco Mendenhall should still be building. The Cavaliers probably will remain offensively challenged, however. And that’s bad news for visitors to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, in most cases.

SYRACUSE (4-8), Nov. 19, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. This one could be Jackson’s final home game — though it’s a little early to think about that. Regardless, it should be fun. Dino Babers has the Orange on the gas at all times on offense, and if quarterback Eric Dungey stays healthy is an entertaining group to watch. Syracuse won’t have much to stop Louisville’s offense, but who doesn’t like a shootout in November?

KENTUCKY (7-6), Nov. 25, Lexington, Ky. The Wildcats are improving. That they managed to get to a bowl — let alone beat Louisville — in what turned out to be a defensive rebuilding year, is a testament to Mark Stoops young talent. With much experience back on offense (the loss of Boom Williams to the NFL Draft barely caused a ripple, it seemed, in offensive expectations), the Wildcats are hoping to take another step next season. Louisville needs payback, and to avoid letting Kentucky start a streak.

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