Two years ago, Louisville entered Memorial Stadium ranked third in the country.
The Lamar Jackson-led Cardinals were even a 1-point favorite over then-No. 5 Clemson, which boasted the likes of Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams and Ben Boulware.
That Tiger squad went on to win a thrilling game, 42-36, and eventually the national championship.
Fast forward to Saturday, where No. 2 Clemson hosted unranked Louisville with a point spread nearing 40 points.
That’s right, just two seasons separated the Tigers being a home underdog in the same season they won it all to being expected to blow out Bobby Petrino’s hapless squad.
Clemson didn’t disappoint, rolling the Cardinals 77-16 and sending them to 2-7 in 2018 on Saturday.
In ACC play, Dabo Swinney’s squad beat Georgia Tech by four touchdowns, Wake Forest by 60, N.C. State by 34 and Florida State by 49. That 27-23 win over Syracuse during a tumultuous week is the closest the Tigers (9-0) have come to a conference blemish.
Saturday, they flexed their muscles over a vastly inferior ACC Atlantic opponent and had a little fun at Petrino’s expense. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence scored a rushing touchdown. Left tackle Mitch Hyatt caught a pass. Coach’s son Will Swinney scored as well.
“We’re just trying to enjoy every moment we have with each other and not waste anything, laughing, dancing, everything that comes with football,” Lawrence said.
Swinney did his best to play up the Cardinals during the week, but the steep drop-off in the competitiveness of this series speaks to Clemson’s continued domination over the division and Louisville’s ineptitude since Jackson, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, became an NFL first-round draft pick.
“When he stepped on the field he gave them a chance,” Swinney said. “That’s the biggest thing, they started over at quarterback.”
At one time, Petrino played the Tigers as close as anybody in the Atlantic, having his first three games against them come down to the final possession. Last year, even with Jackson, Clemson won by 26 points.
The Tigers can now lock up their fourth consecutive trip to the ACC Championship Game with a win over Boston College.
In great position for another College Football Playoff bid, they’ll be a double-digit favorite on the road next week.
There doesn’t seem to be a team talented enough in either the Atlantic or the Coastal to stop them. No. 22 BC will get its chance, but it feels like Louisville widened that gap even more, which is great for Clemson but not the league as a whole.
Will the Cardinals, who lost to the nation’s top two teams 128-30, pull a 2015 Miami, which fired head coach Al Golden after Clemson handed the Hurricanes a program-worst 58-0 loss?
Louisville might not be to that point in November, but Cardinal officials and fans had to realize the score represents how quickly things can get away from you.
“It’s surprising, just the competitiveness,” Clemson senior linebacker Kendall Joseph said. “The will to win, it seems like they may be lacking it. It is shocking. It just shows that you have to stress the culture and make sure you’ve got the right guys in the program or things can slip I guess.”
At the top, Clemson doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. At the bottom, neither does Louisville.
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