Despite only being division rivals for just six seasons, FSU has squared off with the Louisville Cardinals 20 times in their history.
Once conference opponents in basketball, baseball, and other men’s and women’s sports in the old Metro Conference, FSU also committed to playing Louisville on the gridiron despite the Metro not being affiliated with NCAA football.
In their storybook 1979 undefeated regular season, FSU played and beat all five schools. Against the Cardinals, fullback Mark Lyles had 118 rushing yards, 25 more than Louisville had in total on offense (93). The star-studded Seminoles defense shut out UL 27-0 behind interceptions from corner Bobby Butler and then-safety and current FSU broadcaster Keith Jones.
It was the first of three straight shutouts for Bobby Bowden’s squad against Louisville. FSU pummeled UL 52-0 in 1980 when the Cardinals managed a measly 56 yards on 50 snaps. Another year, another shutout win in 1981, this time in the season opener.
A rising force in college football, Florida State shot up to No. 7 in the country and improved to 8-1 or better for the third time in four years when they beat Louisville 49-14 in 1982. Sophomore running back Greg Allen destroyed the Cards for 173 yards and 4 touchdowns. Allen’s 20 rushing scores that season still stands as the FSU single-season record.
In a fifth straight meeting the next year, the 3-8 Cardinals were no match for Florida State yet again in one of the first Thursday night games in program history. Allen torched UL with 145 yards and 3 more touchdowns. In 1986, Louisville hadn’t improved and were still a 3-8 team under new head coach and former Miami head man Howard Schnellenberger, thus FSU ran through Old Cardinal Stadium with another blowout win.
Florida State ushered in the Dynasty era and improved their record against Louisville to 10-1 all-time in 1987 when they topped quarterback Jay Gruden, Jon’s brother and former NFL Washington Football Team head coach. One last time as independents, FSU won at Louisville again 40-15 in 1991. Backs Amp Lee and William Floyd each found the end zone for the Noles.
Louisville bookended the Seminoles’ Dynasty run in 2000 when they bowed down to #2 Florida State 31-0. Senior running back Travis Minor racked up 120 yards and the opening touchdown, while defensive line lynchpin Jamal Reynolds had 2 sacks and linebacker Tommy Polley grabbed a pick-six.
Bowden and FSU would soon long for the era of consistent blowout wins, but in 2002 no game signified that the dominance had left the program more than a 26-20 overtime loss to UL. To make matters worse, the game was played in a downpour of heavy rain. Luckily, FSU fans who journeyed back to the stands at Louisville the next time the Noles played there 12 years later were treated to a return to glory.
Quarterback prodigy Jameis Winston saw three teams join the ACC during his dominant two seasons as Florida State’s starter under center. Winston welcomed Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the conference with smackdowns, but it was a different story at Cardinal Stadium in 2014 when Louisville grabbed a 21-0 lead to threaten the defending champion Noles’ 23-game winning streak.
What followed was one of the most exciting comebacks in FSU history. Famous Jameis directed a scoring drive to end the half, then tossed a perfect strike for a 68-yard touchdown to wideout Travis Rudolph. Freshman tailback Dalvin Cook blew Louisville defenders for a 40-yard touchdown just three minutes later, shushing the crowd.
After shockingly forcing a fumble on his own interception, Winston threw what broadcaster Rece Davis called “a magic bean” through three defensive backs for another touchdown to take a 28-24 lead. Continuing his breakout rookie campaign, Cook sealed the 2014 win with a 38-yard burst with under four minutes to go to rob Louisville of the historic upset.
The next year, Cook again ran all over the Cardinals for 163 yards and two scores, spoiling true freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson’s breakout 307-yard, 3 touchdown performance.
College Gameday was on site in 2016 for a top-ten battle, but only one team bothered to show up. Only the third week in September, Jackson took a firm grip of the Heisman Trophy with both hands, scoring 5 touchdowns in a 63-20 reckoning of the Seminoles. One of the greatest performances in Louisville football history, the Cards shot out to a 35-10 halftime lead chock-full of explosive plays and never looked back.
Baltimore Ravens scouts were likely already drooling at the thought of Jackson when he made all the right plays in the second half of a tight 31-28 contest his final year in college versus Florida State. The future NFL MVP set up Louisville for a last-second field goal to win.
Former FSU head coach Willie Taggart won six ACC games in his two seasons in Tallahassee- two of them came against the Cardinals. Defensive lineman Marvin Wilson had 3.5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks in last year’s game.
In the schools’ first-ever matchup, Florida State tangled with another Louisville quarterback who went on to star for a Baltimore NFL franchise. Legendary Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas won three championships (two of them before the Super Bowl era), three MVP’s, and is still considered one of the greatest players in pro football history.
Before he helped usher in football as the nation’s most popular sport during his time in the pros, Unitas was on the roster for the first three games between UL and Florida State. A monster stat game for the era, “Johnny U” had 195 yards and 3 touchdowns in the winning effort his sophomore year in 1952. Unitas was hurt and so were the Cardinal’s pride after a 59-0 walloping from the Noles in 1953.
A rubber match in 1954 saw Unitas and names for Florida State like Burt “Buddy” Reynolds play both ways (Unitas had an interception as a defensive back), but FSU took a 2-1 lead in the series when they cruised to a 47-6 win.
A hidden gem, 1970 was the last time FSU faced Louisville before Bowden took over the program. UL head coach and former Nole Lee Corso traveled to his alma mater as the favorite over Bill Peterson’s final Seminoles team. In a thrilling finish, J.T. Thomas blocked his second kick of the game in his debut for Florida State to preserve the 9-7 victory. Then known as James Thomas, the star defensive back was the first African-American player in FSU football history.
Florida State and Louisville will meet for the 21st time this Saturday at noon in Cardinal Stadium. FSU (2-3, 1-3 ACC) will look to improve to a .500 record for the season.
Year-by-year results (FSU 16 Wins, UL 4 Wins):
1952: Louisville 41, Florida State 14
1953: Florida State 59, Louisville 0
1954: Florida State 47, Louisville 6
1970: Florida State 9, Louisville 7
1979: Florida State 27, Louisville 0
1980: Florida State 52, Louisville 0
1981: Florida State 17, Louisville 0
1982: Florida State 49, Louisville 14
1983: Florida State 51, Louisville 7
1986: Florida State 54, Louisville 18
1987: Florida State 32, Louisville 9
1991: Florida State 40, Louisville 15
2000: Florida State 31, Louisville 0
2002: Louisville 26, Florida State 20 OT
2014: Florida State 42, Louisville 31
2015: Florida State 41, Louisville 21
2016: Louisville 63, Florida State 20
2017: Louisville 31, Florida State 28
2018: Florida State 28, Louisville 24
2019: Florida State 35, Louisville 24