LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) If fifth-ranked Louisville wants to remain in the playoff discussion, the Cardinals will have to do something they've never done before.
Louisville (8-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 7 CFB) can end with their best league finish by beating Wake Forest (6-3, 3-2) on Saturday night. While coach Bobby Petrino expected improvement in the Cardinals' third year in the league after back-to-back 5-3 finishes, this year has included a breakthrough against the top tier with a 63-20 pounding of then-No. 2 Florida State that thrust Louisville and Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson onto the national scene.
Though the Cardinals will need a lot of help to overtake No. 2 Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC) - which dealt them their only league loss last month - Petrino likes still having a shot at the Atlantic Division.
''We went into the year with the goal to compete for a national championship,'' Petrino said on Monday. ''I really liked our team when we started this off and I felt like we had a shot at it. I think we've played well and we'll just keep working at it.''
No matter how the ACC shakes out, Louisville remains hopeful of being considered for the four-team playoff. The second ranking comes Tuesday night, and the question is whether the Cardinals' standing will improve with Texas A&M (No. 4 CFP) sustaining its second loss.
Petrino said players were upset by last week's initial ranking that made their road to the playoff more difficult. But it told the Cardinals that improvement was needed after close calls such as their 32-25 escape at Virginia and judging from Saturday's 52-7 rout of Boston College , total domination is now their objective.
''We just felt like we should've been (ranked) higher,'' cornerback Stacy Thomas said, ''but we don't have any say-so in that and just have to play each week and show we deserve to be there. Whenever there's a team ahead of us that thinks they're better than us, that's motivation.''
Petrino seemed bothered by having to run up the score but didn't say whether that would be the norm to influence the playoff committee.
''The only thing that we can control is how we play and how we go out and perform and win games,'' he said.
Jackson certainly seemed inspired to do his part with another multiple-touchdown performance that bolstered his Heisman credentials.
The sophomore quarterback got Louisville out to a 35-0 lead by accounting for five TDs before leaving the game before halftime with forearm cramps and finger numbness. Jackson returned to score twice more in the third quarter, capping another big day with a 53-yard scoring run that raised his season TD total to 45.
Jackson and Louisville now face an improved Wake Forest team that's bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, when the Demon Deacons played in the Music City Bowl. The Cardinals have won all three series meetings but after last year's 20-19 squeaker over Wake in Winston-Salem, they're not taking anything for granted.
Especially with margin of victory possibly determining their playoff chances.
''That's our philosophy as an offense, to score every time,'' center Tobijah Hughley said. ''We're really worried about what we can control, so we're going to focus on scoring every time we get the chance.''
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