With star quarterback Jordan Travis sidelined with a lower leg injury, backup Tate Rodemaker comes off the bench, throws a pair of touchdown passes to spark a 2nd half comeback and leads Florida State to a 35-31 win against Louisville.

Sound like a bold prediction for Saturday’s ACC Championship Game between the Seminoles and Cardinals?

Nope.

It already happened. Sept. 16, 2022. L&N Stadium.

Who could have imagined at the time that either the matchup or Rodemaker’s heroics would foreshadow a championship matchup just 1 year later?

But here we are.

AP No. 4 Florida State (12-0) and No. 15 Louisville (10-2) will face off for the conference title at 8 pm on Saturday at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.

Although some of the shine has come off the game because of the Cardinals’ regular season-ending loss to Kentucky last Saturday and Travis’ season-ending leg injury the previous week against North Alabama, there’s still a lot to be decided.

Including a spot in the College Football Playoff if the Seminoles, who are favored by 2.5 points, can take care of business and remain undefeated.

Let’s take a closer look at what it will take to win the trophy and celebrate a championship banner (regardless of what the Playoff committee decides at noon Sunday) with these 5 keys to Saturday’s title game:

Win the ground war

A lot of focus will be placed on Rodemaker and how he’ll perform under the pressure now that he has a start under his belt. And understandably so. But don’t get too caught up analyzing the importance of quarterback play.

This game will be decided by the foot soldiers.

Louisville has 2 of the ACC’s best in Jawhar Jordan and Isaac Guerendo. Both average better than 6 yards per carry and are threats to take it to the house anytime they touch the ball. Jordan ranks 2nd in the conference with 1,076 yards while Guerendo has added 639 yards. They’ve combined for 21 rushing touchdowns, including 7 on runs of 33 yards or more.

The more they’re able to move the chains and set the tone for the Cardinals’ offense against a formidable Florida State front and linebacking corps, the less pressure there will be on their quarterback, Jack Plummer.

Running the ball will be even more important for the Seminoles. And it won’t be easy, despite the presence of primary ball carrier Trey Benson, whose 3 clutch touchdown runs were the difference in last week’s come-from-behind win at rival Florida. The Cardinals lead the ACC and are 12th nationally in run defense, allowing an average of only 96.8 yards per game.

Benson is more of a wear ’em down type of runner than the home run threats in Louisville’s backfield. Still, he’s also averaging better than 6 yards a pop and has 838 yards to go with 14 touchdowns. And along with running mate Lawrance Toafili, he’s likely to become an even more important piece in the passing game as an outlet for the inexperienced Rodemaker.

Pressure the quarterback

While running the ball and stopping the run will be Job 1 for both teams, it’s equally important for them not to let either quarterback get comfortable in the pocket when they do drop back to pass.

Both teams have explosive playmakers in their receiving corps and both QBs have shown strong arms when they have time to throw. But there’s just as much talent on the 2 defenses trying to prevent that from happening.

Louisville’s Ashton Gillotte leads the ACC with 11 sacks. FSU, on the other hand, is tied for the league lead with 38 sacks – including 7 each by edge rusher Jared Verse and linebacker Kalen DeLoach. Verse, a projected 1st-round NFL Draft pick, has caused even more havoc than the stats indicate because of his presence in opposing backfields – as Florida quarterback Max Brown can attest.

The battle up front should be telling. While both teams are among the ACC leaders in sacks, their offensive lines are among the best at preventing them. FSU has allowed only 20 this season. Louisville 22.

Turnovers

Keeping pressure off the quarterback is especially important for the Cardinals. Because while Rodemaker did an admirable job of avoiding major mistakes last week – including taking a 1st-half safety rather than throwing a ball up for grabs deep in his own territory – Louisville’s Plummer has had a penchant for throwing interceptions. He has been picked off 11 times this season, the 4th-highest total in the conference.

While winning the turnover battle is a key element in every game, it’s especially important in order for Jeff Brohm’s team to have a realistic shot at upsetting the Seminoles and bringing home the first ACC championship in school history.

Louisville was minus-2 in each of its 2 losses. Plummer threw a pair of interceptions against Pittsburgh, including a pick-6 by the Panthers’ MJ Devonshire, and 2 lost fumbles led to 10 Kentucky points and helped the Wildcats rally from a 2-score deficit last week.

Keon Coleman

Coleman is a difference-maker who developed a natural chemistry with Travis after arriving as a transfer from Michigan State last summer. He has 46 catches for 639 yards and leads the ACC with 11 receiving touchdowns.

Whether it was because of a concerted effort by Florida’s defense to take him out of the game or Rodemaker’s inability to find him downfield, the Seminoles’ star touched the ball only twice in last week’s win in Gainesville.

Still, he found a way to impact the game. Coleman’s only catch was a 24-yarder on the touchdown drive to start the 2nd half that helped his team take its first lead of the game. His 34-yard punt return then put FSU in position for a field goal that put it ahead for good early in the 4th quarter.

He needs to be more of a factor Saturday. Not getting him more involved will play into the hands of a
Cardinals’ secondary that has already shut down the likes of NC State’s KC Concepcion and Virginia Tech’s Jaylin Lane.

Finish strong

Getting off to a fast start is always a desirable goal. But as FSU has shown throughout the season, finishing strong is even more important. Mike Norvell’s team has erased 2nd-half deficits 5 times this season – against LSU, Clemson, Duke, Miami and Florida. And it has outscored its opponents by a whopping 124-30 margin in the 4th quarter.

Louisville hasn’t been quite as effective at closing out its opponents, as was the case Saturday when it was outscored 17-7 over the final 15 minutes by Kentucky. The Cardinals have had a particularly hard time in 3rd quarters this season. They’ve only outscored the opposition 94-86 in the period, including 17 unanswered points coming out of halftime at Pittsburgh on the way to a 38-21 loss to the Panthers.