Strong Says Louisville Deserving of Sugar Bowl Spotlight
When the 18th-ranked Cardinals take the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 2, they will do so against a highly regarded and No. 4 ranked Florida squad. The Gators are 11-1 with their only loss coming against rival Georgia in a closely contested 17-9 showdown in late October. UF has four wins over ranked opponents this season, including an impressive 37-26 win at then-No. 5 Florida State in the regular season finale. With so much national attention on Florida, Louisville coach Charlie Strong has made it clear to his talented and youthful Cardinals that they have earned their opportunity to compete on the BCS stage at the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
“What our players have to understand is that we’ve won 10 football games ourselves and that we have a good football team,” Strong told reporters last week. “We’re going to respect that program because they were one game away from playing in the national championship game. Our players have to understand that ‘you know what, you’re in this position and you’ve worked hard enough to be in this position. Now, you have a chance to show everybody across the country just what this program is.'”
Cardinals’ Underdog Role Not a Surprise
Though he knows his BIG EAST champion Louisville squad is deserving of its opportunity to compete in the program’s second BCS bowl, Strong has not been surprised to see Florida as the favored team by most college football experts in the 79th edition of the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Gators’ impressive 2012 resume combined with the program’s high level of success during the last 20 years helps explain their popularity going into the Jan. 2 matchup.
“They’re going to say that just because of who we are and because of the respect they have for Florida,” Strong said of the media around the nation. “Florida is in the Southeastern Conference and we’re in the BIG EAST Conference. I tell (our players) all of the time to not worry about that because you have to play the game. At the end of the day, we will see where we’re at when the game is over.”
Emphasis for Bridgewater Centered on Improving
Louisville sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has emerged this season as one of the nation’s most talented signal callers, and after his performance at Rutgers, he is likely one of the toughest. The 2012 BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year put up impressive statistics passing for more than 287 yard per game, 25 touchdowns and completing 69 percent (267-of-387) of his throws while playing all 12 games. With his highly successful campaign, his NFL stock has risen significantly and he has emerged as one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft despite having two years of college eligibility remaining. But don’t expect the humble and team-oriented Bridgewater to be distracted or misguided by his NFL potential.
“We really don’t talk about that,” said Strong in response to whether he talks with Bridgewater about his NFL preparations. “He’s a sophomore and he still has a lot of football left. He still has a lot of football to learn. He can still grow and get a lot better. He’s a young player and what you want to do with a young player is make sure they’re locked in. A lot of times when you start talking about this kind of potential or you can go here, guys get so focused on it that they forget where they are right now.”
Louisville Earns Another Strong Finish in the Classroom in 2012
Since being hired as the Cardinals’ head coach prior to the 2012 season, Strong has placed a great emphasis on succeeding academically. That emphasis has hit home inside the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex as Louisville enjoyed another tremendous fall semester in the classroom, capped by 10 current and former Cardinals earning their degrees and participating in the UofL commencement ceremony on Dec. 14.
“Our grades (in the fall semester) were unbelievable and our guys did a great job,” said Strong. “Last Friday night (Dec. 14), we had 10 players graduate, so the guys understand what this program is all about. You know you come here to get a degree. You come here to win football game. You come here to be a better person. It was great to see our players walk across that stage.”