2021 ACC Preseason Awards: Louisville

(photo courtesy of Louisville Athletics)

It’s been a wild ride to begin Scott Satterfield’s tenure at Louisville. He exceeded expectations in year one, disappointed in year two, and then was rumored to have shown interest in the South Carolina vacancy this offseason.

Things have settled down though and the Cardinals are poised to bounce back in 2021. The primary way they need to execute that is finishing close games. The statistician in me will say that they had unfortunate luck last season, but the bottom line is good football teams will find ways to win.

Let’s take a look at the key on-field pieces that will hope to steer the ship back in the right direction.

Offensive Most Valuable Player: QB Malik Cunningham

Louisville was loaded with offensive weapons last season, but running back Javian Hawkins and wide receivers Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick are off to the NFL. Now, the bottom line is simple: the success of the Cardinals’ offense is in the hands of Cunningham.

As previously stated, Louisville did not lose games by much last season, so simple adjustments to Cunningham’s game can completely turn things around. The primary thing is decision making.

Big Time Passes Turnover Worthy Passes PFF Grade
0-9 Yard Throws 0 5 59.2
10-19 Yard Throws 2 6 81.9
20+ Yard Throws 13 3 87.7


Cunningham is clearly efficient on deep passes. But he needs to start taking the same calculated approach on shorter throws. On many of his underneath passes, the potential reward does not outweigh the risk.

If that minor change is made, Cunningham can be one of the better quarterbacks in college football.

Defensive Player of the Year: CB Kei’Trel Clark

Louisville is expected to make defensive improvements this year, and it will all be built around the lockdown corner in Clark.

Clark’s refined skillset, especially in mirroring opposing receivers, stands out on tape.

Despite having fairly few targets against him, he is second among returning ACC defensive backs with eight forced incompletions last year.

Clark was left off the official preseason all-ACC team, but that chip on his shoulder can only add to his performance. Listen to Clark, in his own words, talk about the upcoming season, as he was a guest on our award-winning Pypeline ACC Podcast:

True Freshman of the Year: DE Ashton Gillotte

(photo courtesy of the Sun Sentinel)

Although Gillotte was not nationally ranked, he has perhaps received the most praise out of any newcomer to the Cardinals program.

At 6’4″ 220, Gillotte has an intriguing combination of length and athleticism. According to spring camp reports, he is making a smooth adjustment to the speed of the college game.

As Louisville looks to improve their pass rushing unit, Gillotte can be a key rotational piece immedately.

Most Underrated Player: C Cole Bentley

(photo courtesy of Louisville Athletics)

The ACC has a group of quality centers this year in Boston College’s Alec Lindstrom and NC State’s Grant Gibson. Cole Bentley deserves to be right in that mix.

Bentley was not responsible for a sack all season last year and had a Pro Football Focus run block grade in the 80th percentile of power conference linemen.

With 30 starts already under his belt, the veteran will be vital to Louisville in the trenches.

Breakout Player of the Year: RB Jalen Mitchell

(photo courtesy of Louisville Athletics)

Mitchell’s playing time was limited as a redshirt freshman, playing behind the workhorse in Hawkins. But when he was called upon, he showed loads of potential.

On just 52 rushes last season, Mitchell ran for 10+ yards six times, forced 15 missed tackles, and accounted for 347 yards. The most impressive part was that he ran for 4.10 yards per attempt after contact.

Mitchell can be a major asset to the offense with his impressive power and underrated agility.

Be sure to check out our previous ACC team award features: