LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Here is the most encouraging news about the University of Louisville's season-opening football game against Notre Dame:
The point spread has not budged in 13 days.
Here is the flip side of that outlook:
Notre Dame has settled in as a 20-point favorite for the first trip by the Fighting Irish to Cardinal Stadium at 8 p.m. Sept. 2.
(According to SeatGeek.com, tickets on the secondary market start at $84 in Section 305 and increase to somebody asking for $1,400 per seat for two fine ones in Section 133, Row E.)
Considering Louisville lost seven games by 21 points or more last season and Notre Dame won six games by 21 or more, that spread seems generous to the Cardinals.
There's more. Louisville and Notre Dame shared four opponents last season — Wake Forest, Florida State, Syracuse and Dabo Swinney University.
The Irish beat Wake by 31, and Wake beat U of L by 21. Gap: 52 points.
The Irish beat FSU by 29 and the Seminoles took advantage of a Bobby Petrino brain cramp to beat Louisville by four. Gap: 33 points.
The Irish beat Syracuse by 33 -- a week after the Orange drove Petrino out of his office for good with a 31-point undressing of U of L in the Carrier Dome. Gap: 64 points.
Oh. Both teams flailed and suffered against Clemson. The Irish lost by 27. The Cards lost by 61. Gap: 34 points.
Overall Gap: I struggled with Finite Math, but I'm fairly certain it's considerable.
But last year is last year. And Las Vegas is Las Vegas.
New players (both schools). New mojo (both schools). New coaches (Louisville).
Two months before kickoff and one month before pre-season camp, the narratives remain the same. Scott Satterfield is about to discover how substantial the rebuild is that Louisville will face. Brian Kelly will try to prove that Notre Dame can return to the national playoff.
The national observers are skeptical -- about the Fighting Irish. I checked the pre-season projections from seven sources -- The Sporting News, Phil Steele, Sports Illustrated, Athlon, ESPN, CBSSports and USA Today.
The Fighting Irish are ranked as high as No. 5 and as low as No. 11 with an average ranking of eight.
There remains a gap between Notre Dame and Clemson and Alabama, but there is a gap between 128 programs and Clemson and Alabama.
With road games against Georgia, Michigan and Stanford, Notre Dame is not expected to repeat its 12-0 regular-season performance from last season.
The wise guys believe Notre Dame can be better on offense but not as formidable on defense.
Offensive improvement is mandatory. Notre Dame averaged 31.4 points per game last season, which ranked 42nd in the nation.
That doesn't seem terrible until you compare it with the three other 2018 playoff teams. Oklahoma (48.4 points per game), Alabama (45.6) and Clemson (44.3) scored every time they adjusted their chin straps, ranking first, third and fourth.
The Irish have the tools to improve. Quarterback Ian Book is a 68 percent passer who will be working with three of his favorite targets -- tight end Cole Kmet and receivers Chase Claypool and Chris Finke.
The Irish don't have a Jerome Bettis as running back, but Kelly has the pieces to do it by committee, especially with four starters back on the offensive line.
Even if the Irish can upgrade to 40 points per game, defense will matter. They're down five starters, including their top cornerback, defensive line and linebacker.
That's why the wise guys have placed Notre Dame behind Georgia, Ohio State, Louisiana State and others on the list of legitimate national championship contenders, an achievement Notre Dame has not celebrated in more than three decades.
But this is Year 10 for Kelly in South Bend. The Notre Dame administration has finally stopped the folly of chasing the Next Great Coach, a strategy that saddled the program with Charle Weis, Tyrone Willingham and considerable expenses
Kelly is their guy. He has improved Notre Dame's recruiting, hired young, dynamic coordinators and learned to embrace the expectations that anything less than a 10-win season will have the faithful clamoring for Urban Meyer in South Bend.
It's not the kind of Louisville-Notre Dame game everybody hoped for when it popped on the schedule. Remember that Reggie Bonnafon and the Cardinals handled the Irish with gusto (31-28) only five seasons ago in Notre Dame Stadium.
But, hey, at least one person is betting that it's a $1,400 ticket.
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