By Rick Bozich
WDRB Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDRB) — Yes, the University of Louisville football players have heard the chilling chatter about this season.

No Lamar Jackson.

No projected first-round NFL Draft picks on defense.

No pause in the discussion about the scrubbed name that had been associated with their football stadium for the last 20 years.

No great expectations.

A predicted finish as low as sixth in the seven-team Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference. No predicted finishes (that I have found) higher than third in the division.

A year ago there was a sense the Cardinals could squeeze Clemson and/or Florida State at the top of the division. Not this season — although the results from the official media poll from the ACCKickoff will not be released for several days.

“I’m sure they think we have fallen off the face of the Earth, because Lamar did do a lot for the program,” said U of L receiver Jaylen Smith, who represented the offense at ACCKickoff at the Westin Hotel in downtown Charlotte Thursday.

“But we still do have a lot of firepower on the team.”

“Judging off the tape of last year, they have a right to be (skeptical of the Cards),” said defensive end Jonathan Greenard. “However, we definitely take that as a chip on our shoulder and we try not to pay attention to that as much as possible.

“The stats are there. So you can’t lie about that. The film is on tape. We definitely just have to play better and make better plays.”

Louisville split eight conference games last season, finishing three games behind Clemson as well as two behind North Carolina State. The Cardinals defeated Florida State for the second consecutive season, but they stumbled against North Carolina State, Boston College and Wake Forest.

The defense had issues, finishing 10th in scoring and total defense in the 14-team league. Petrino changed defensive coordinators for the second consecutive season, hiring Brian Van Gorder to replace Peter Sirmon.

Subtract Jackson, the league’s most productive offensive player the last two seasons, and diminished expectations were inevitable, especially for a team that opens against Alabama on Sept. 1 in Orlando, Fla.

Greenard is captain material, a poised leader who contributed 48 tackles, including seven sacks last season. Smith considered a move to the NFL. But he contributed 60 receptions, even though his junior season was interrupted by injuries. Smith is the Louisville player most likely to be voted to the pre-season all-ACC first team.

He is also the guy who believes this team is not going to take a tumble toward the bottom of the division.

“Watch and learn,” Smith said, when asked for his response to people questioning this team.

“There’s a lot I could say. There’s a lot I could get my teammates to say Just do more and talk less and let it happen.”

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