Allstate Sugar Bowl
Louisville vs. Florida, 8:30 ET ESPN
Louisville: 8-1 ATS after losing 2 of their last 3 games
Florida: 22-10 Over off a road win by 10+ points
About the Cardinals: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the reason Louisville is in the Sugar Bowl. Despite a severely sprained ankle and a broken wrist, Bridgewater came off the bench and led his team to a come-from-behind victory against Rutgers to secure the BCS berth. It was a gutsy performance and one that makes you think the Cardinals might just have a chance in this game. This season, the sophomore has completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns. We’ll see if the month off has helped Bridgewater heal. He wasn’t able to take snaps under center against Rutgers because of his wrist and shotgun snaps and handing the ball off made for an adventure. But if he’s even 70 percent, he’ll give Louisville a chance to pull off the upset.
About the Gators: Florida didn't look great down the stretch following its loss to Georgia. Even though the Gators were 4-0 in that span, all but one of the games was against an inferior opponent and they were all a little close for comfort. If Florida is going to beat Louisville, it’s running game is going to have to show up. Mike Gillislee is the first Florida running back to rush for 1,000 yards since 2004 and if he’s running well, the offense seems to move seamlessly. Couple in the running ability of quarterback Jeff Driskel and the running game is the Gators most potent offensive weapon. Florida’s pass defense also will need to be stout against a team that likes to air it out. The Gators have limited opponents to a 51.2 completion rate and an average of just 186 yards per game.
Playing down: The Gators have played to the level of their competition all season -- much to the chagrin of coach Will Muschamp. Louisville isn't as good as quite a few of the teams the Gators have already beaten, but the Gators have a habit of allowing their opponents to stay close. Remember, this is the same team that got pushed to the limit at home by Missouri and then almost lost to Louisiana-Lafayette at home the following week. Had Northern Illinois not crashed the BCS, the Gators probably would have been playing Oklahoma in this game. Florida players probably would have had an easier time getting motivated to face the Sooners. The Gators must avoid sleeping on the Cardinals, who, with the exception of a late two-game slide, were just as good as Florida at playing exactly to the level of the competition and winning close. In a six-game stretch from Sept. 15-Oct. 26, Louisville won all six of its games by an average of 5.1 points.
Frank Schwab: Florida 21, Louisville 17
I like Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater to keep his team in the game until the end. Florida is a great defensive team that doesn't move the ball up and down the field. They are generally fine grinding out close, low-scoring games, and that's what the Sugar Bowl will be.
Graham Watson: Florida 28, Louisville 17
While Louisville will put up a fight, Florida’s firepower is going to be too much to contain. Bridgewater is still going to be a little beaten up and Florida will try to exploit that. If the Gators running games is going, they should win this game easily.
Banged-up Bridgewater: The health of Teddy Bridgewater is the biggest question mark for Louisville. In the Big East regular-season finale against Rutgers, he clearly wasn’t 100 percent due to an ankle sprain and a broken wrist. But he essentially willed the Cardinals to victory despite being hampered. For a sophomore, he possesses great poise and goes through his progressions quickly. And he clearly can make every throw necessary to compete at the highest level. The one thing that strikes me about this offense is the way he spreads the football around to his teammates. Five different Cardinal skill-position players have 30 or more catches on the year, led by big-play threat DeVante Parker, which helped Bridgewater finish the regular season with nearly 3,500 yards passing and 25 scores against just seven interceptions. He should be improved physically because of the long layoff, and a big effort in a showcase game could put him on a lot of preseason Heisman Watch lists for next year along with Jadeveon Clowney.
Safety school: While Florida safety Elam gets all the All-America accolades, don't forget that Louisville has two excellent safeties. Sophomore Calvin Pryor has 94 tackles and four forced fumbles, while junior Hakeem Smith has 66 tackles. Pryor, Smith and the rest of the Louisville secondary will have to force turnovers, because when Florida wins the turnover competition, Florida wins the game. The Gators were plus-20 in turnover margin in their 11 wins. They were minus-three in their loss to Georgia. Florida doesn't take to the air often -- quarterback Jeff Driskel has thrown only 216 times this season -- but the passing game is the weakest link on Florida's team. If the Cardinals can wreak havoc on the rare occasions when Florida does put the ball in the air, they'll have a shot.
Is that a way to say that Florida won't be "motivated" tonight? That seems unlikely. Regardless of the circumstances, this is still the first BCS bowl for Florida in three years, and really the first season the Gators have proven to be nationally relevant since Tim Tebow incinerated another Big East team in that 2010 Sugar Bowl. This might not be the national championship game, but it's still a way for Muschamp and his players to show that the post-Tebow swoon is over.
The Gators struggle to pass the eyeball test, struggle to pull away from opponents … and they have won almost every game they have played, against a tough schedule. That the Gators almost lost to UL-Lafayette alone proves that Louisville has a chance in this game. That the Gators didn't lose, and that they also won at Texas A&M and Florida State (while beating LSU and destroying South Carolina at home), shows why they are heavy favorites. Florida is currently giving 13 points to Louisville in Vegas, more than even Florida State is giving to Northern Illinois (12.5). This is a superb team, dominant enough on defense, special teams and field position to beat you even if you slow down its offense, and Louisville probably doesn't have the firepower to take out the Gators.