Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was tabbed the Atlantic Coast Conference Preseason Player of the Year, and the University of Louisville football team was picked to finish third in the conference’s Atlantic Division, the league announced on Monday.
According to a poll of the league’s 167 media members in attendance at the 2017 ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, N.C., Florida State is the preseason favorite to claim the ACC football championship. The Seminoles were the likely 2017 ACC champions on 118 ballots, followed by defending national champion and two-time defending ACC champion Clemson with 35 votes. Louisville was third with seven votes, while Virginia Tech and Miami totaled three each and Duke had one.
In the Atlantic Division, Florida State led the way with 121 first-place votes and 1,108 total points. Defending national champion Clemson followed with 37 first-place votes and 1,007 points, while Louisville received nine first-place votes and checked in with 843 total points. NC State (658 total points) was tabbed for a fourth-place Atlantic Division finish, followed by Wake Forest (415), Syracuse (362) and Boston College (283).
Louisville returns 14 starters from last season’s 9-4 team that finished as co-champions of the ACC’s Atlantic Division with a 7-1 conference record and participants in the Citrus Bowl.
Jackson, the 2016 ACC Player of the Year, was the overwhelming selection to be the league’s player of the year in 2017. He was chosen to repeat after a record-setting campaign in which he averaged 393.4 yards per game of total offense and accounted for 51 touchdowns, both ACC single-season records. His school-record 1,571 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns were also ACC records for a quarterback.
A rising junior from Pompano Beach, Fla., Jackson — the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy — also was named the 2016 National College Football Player of the Year by the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp, the Sporting News, and CBS Sports.
The Cardinals are entering their eighth season under the direction of head coach Bobby Petrino, who has led the program to a 67-22 record and bowl appearances each season. In his 12 seasons as a collegiate head coach, Petrino’s 109-43 record (.717 winning percentage) is the 14th-best winning percentage among active coaches at the Division I ranks.
Besides Jackson returning on the nation’s third-rated offense in 2016, the Cardinals bring back junior wide receiver Jaylen Smith, who finished third in the nation with a 22.2 yards per catch average and was tied for second on the team with six touchdown receptions. Senior running back Reggie Bonnafon, who served in a multi-purpose role last season, will be the starter in the backfield, while junior offensive tackles Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil are back to anchor the offensive line.
Louisville’s defensive unit, which returns nine starters, is headlined by junior cornerback Jaire Alexander, defensive lineman Drew Bailey and linebacker Stacy Thomas.
Alexander, a second team all-ACC selection in 2016, led the Cardinals with five interceptions. He recorded a pair in a loss to nationally ranked Clemson and totaled two in a road win at Virginia.
Bailey, a starter in all 13 games, led the defensive line with 58 tackles and also totaled 9.0 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. He was credited with a career-best 11 tackles in a 24-14 win over Duke.
Finishing second on the team in tackles last season, Thomas returns as the leader of the defense. A starter in 11 games last year, Thomas registered six or more tackles in eight games, including a season-high 11 in the Citrus Bowl versus LSU.
Louisville opens the year on a neutral field against Purdue on Sept. 2 in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. Kickoff on FOX is set for 7:30 p.m.
by Rocco Gasparro