Sugar Bowl Preview: Charlie Strong Revives Cardinals, Faces Familiar Gators

Allstate Sugar Bowl Preview: #21 Louisville v. #3 Florida, Jan. 2, 2013 at 8:30pm EST on ESPN

A discussion of college football’s top teams in the modern era would certainly include the Florida Gators. They’ve won three national championships in the last 20 years and enjoyed tremendous success under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer with the forgettable Ron Zook years sandwiched in between. Now, having led the Gators to the Sugar Bowl in his second season as head coach, Will Muschamp appears poised to follow that line of success.

Such a discussion, however, would not include the Louisville Cardinals. They enjoyed brief success, including a victory in the 2006 Orange Bowl, in the mid-2000s. However, that success was under Bobby Petrino, who may be one of the best minds, especially on the offensive side of the ball,in the NCAA outside of Nick Saban although tragic flaws (namely, a mercenary mindset and a complete lack of a moral compass) have since relegated him to near obscurity. If you want to know how hard it is to win at Louisville, just ask Steve Kragthorpe, whose 15-21 record (5-16 in the Big East) resulted in his being fired after three years.

Despite the difficulties, Strong has proven you don’t have to be named Bobby Petrino in order to win at Louisville, taking the Cardinals to the Sugar Bowl after just three seasons. What’s more, Strong is set to become an icon in Louisville for doing something that would run counter to everything. He turned down “better” offers to try to build something special (Petrino infamously accepted a job at Auburn, a job that wasn’t open, in 2003, and, when that didn’t work out, stayed only long enough to receive an NFL offer with the Atlanta Falcons -- a job he quit mid-season to accept an offer with the Arkansas Razorbacks). Strong turned down the opportunity to coach the Tennessee Volunteers and perhaps other opportunities in the SEC and elsewhere this offseason.

Strong’s a winner, and, while whether he can turn Louisville into a consistent winning program is still uncertain, the fact that much of his success stems from Florida is not. Strong coached under both Spurrier and Meyer with the Gators, brought a few former Gator assistants with him, and has recruited in Florida extremely well during his brief tenure. He even learned the valuable lesson of relying on a great quarterback in Sophomore sensation Teddy Bridgewater.

Despite the skill or Bridgewater and the spirit of strong’s resurgent Cardinals, Florida may be too much to overcome. The stellar defense of the Gators, led by Junior All-American Matt Elam, will be far more impressive than anything Bridgewater has seen, and a strong running game led by senior running back Mike Gillislee will mask the unimpressive quarterback play of sophomore Jeff Driskel. However, this could be closer than one might think if Louisville’s horrific rush defense can step up to slow down Florida’s superior ground game, and if Bridgewater and big-play wide receiver sophomore DeVante Parker can get a few quick scores. 

By the Numbers

Louisville:

Avg. Pts/G (O)- 31.0 (49th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (O)- 298.6 (24th)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (O)- 127.1 (100th)

Avg. Pts/G (D)- 23.83 (37th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (D)- 193.8 (19th)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (D)- 151.1 (52nd)

Florida:

Avg. Pts/G (O)- 26.8 (79th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (O)- 143.9 (118th)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (O)- 194.1 (35th)

Avg. Pts/G (D)- 12.92 (3rd)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (D)- 186.4 (15th)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (D)- 97.0 (6th)

Prediction

As I mentioned above, a lot needs to go right for Louisville in order for them to keep it close with heavily-favored Florida. Will all those things go right? Probably not. However, Strong is a good coach, and Bridgewater is a standout. This will be closer than many people think.

Florida 27, Louisville 24


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