Toughest three-game stretch: Louisville

We're continuing to look at the toughest three-game stretches for each ACC team. Today's focus is on Louisville, which opens its second season in the ACC with a bang.


Sept. 5 vs. Auburn

Sept. 12 vs. Houston

Sept. 17 vs. Clemson

Why it's tough: We'll certainly know all we need to know about Louisville by the middle of the first month of the season. The Cardinals get Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff to open the year in what may be its toughest challenge of the season. Auburn is already getting plenty of preseason buzz as a potential playoff candidate, and the Tigers' run-heavy offense will certainly challenge Louisville's defense. In last year's Belk Bowl against Nick Chubb and Georgia, that seemed like a clear problem for the Cardinals, so Todd Grantham will have his hands full in fall camp with Auburn on deck.

Houston isn't going to strike fear into the hearts of many Louisville fans, but the Cougars won't be a pushover either. Perhaps more concerning, however, is the game leaves Louisville with just five days to prep for a crucial Atlantic Division showdown with Clemson on a Thursday night. Given Clemson's firepower on offense, that's not much prep or recovery time for a unit that figures to get challenged often in its first two games.

Odds for success: 30 percent. The upside for Louisville is that its biggest question marks are on offense, and each of its opponents during this stretch have some major holes to fill on D. That two of the three games come at home also helps. But this slate is really a nightmare way to open the season, and in many ways a mirror image of what Clemson went through a year ago with Georgia and Florida State in its first three games. The Tigers emerged 1-2, and despite what turned out to be a 10-3 campaign, they were never really in the hunt for a playoff (or the Atlantic) after that tough start. Louisville can afford to lose the Auburn game and remain in the playoff discussion, but the short rest before Clemson is a huge red flag for a potential season-defining showdown in mid-September. Meanwhile, the ongoing QB battle needs to be settled sooner than later if the Cardinals are going to be fully prepared for this early gauntlet.