The Big East's automatic berth has been in question for years now. Most analysts and fans would claim that Oklahoma or Georgia or any team in the BCS Top 15 deserve a spot in the Sugar Bowl more than the Louisville Cardinals. But the Cards are not to be overlooked, and here are five reasons why.
The Gators boast one of the nation's elite defenses, have weapons in kickers Caleb Sturgis and Kyle Christy and have a stable of running backs including Mike Gillislee with over 1,000 yards on the season and freshman Matt Jones, coming off his biggest game of the season against archrival Florida State.
The receiving corps, however, has been the team's obvious flaw. Quinton Dunbar has emerged as the No. 2 option behind Jordan Reed, but the drop off after that is staggering. The Gators' aerial offense ranks 112th nationally, while the Cardinals have the 19th best pass defense. Florida has been without a true receivers coach all season, and Coach Muschamp hired Joker Phillips at the end of the regular season, but Gatorsports.com says that Phillips will not be working with them until the offseason.
If UF gets into 3rd-and-long situations, there could be trouble.
The Gators' only loss this season came at a neutral site. While dominant in The Swamp, Florida has tended to play from behind away from home this season, falling behind early to Texas A&M, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia. If you're keeping score, that's every game away from home except for Florida State.
NOLA.com reports that the Gators have sold half the amount of tickets that Louisville has as of December 28.
This will certainly not be anything close to a Swamp-like atmosphere and could be more of a road game than a neutral one.
The Bowling Green game to start the season was not pretty. Neither was the Missouri game and especially not the last-second win against Louisiana-Lafayette. For all of the top 10 wins that the Gators have racked up this year, there have been nearly as many close wins against lesser foes on paper.
The Big East is considered by many to be the worst of the Automatic Qualifying conferences, but according to Jeff Sagarin's ratings, that was not the case this season.
The question is, will the team that nearly lost to Louisiana-Lafayette show up in New Orleans, or will it be the team that dominated Florida State?
If you didn't watch the quasi-Big East Championship Game between Rutgers and Louisville, you missed a spectacular performance by the sophomore quarterback.
He threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns with a broken left wrist with only eight incomplete passes—not to mention his maneuverability was handicapped by a sore ankle. Bridgewater has thrown for 3,452 yards with a 69 percent completion rate this season with 25 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. According to The Palm Beach Post, Bridgewater will be ready to go come game day.
The speculation about Charlie Strong leaving the Louisville program has died down, and he will be on the sidelines on January 2.
Gator fans know Strong well. After all, he was a key component in both the 2006 and 2008 BCS titles as the defensive coordinator. He may not be as familiar with Will Muschamp's team and brand of football, but his championship experience means he knows how to prepare for big games.
Having a month to game plan for the stout Florida defense can only help the Cards, and Louisville fans can rest assured that Strong will have his defense ready to go. They have played well when it has counted this season, and they are sure to do everything they can to make this year's Sugar Bowl interesting.