Kickoff: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans
Spread: Florida by 14
Watchability: It's a BCS bowl matchup pitting a traditional power against an up-and-comer. In addition, several story lines will be bandied about in the days leading up to the game, such as a glut of Louisville's talent coming from the state of Florida (including former Gator CB Adrian Bushell) and the fact that Cardinal coach Charlie Strong was the UF defensive coordinator before taking over at Louisville. Additionally, former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has joined the Florida staff as wide receivers coach.
Shining stars: Louisville -- QB Teddy Bridgewater. Undoubtedly the best player on the best team in the Big East, Bridgewater proved his mettle in earnest in the season's final game, when -- with a sprained ankle and broken wrist -- Bridgewater led the Louisville past Rutgers. He finished the season with nearly 3,500 yards passing and 25 scores against just seven interceptions. Wednesday night could be the beginning of a 2013 Heisman campaign for the junior-to-be. Florida -- RB Mike Gillislee. Louisville is not particularly adept at stopping the run, and that plays right into the Gators' hands. Gillislee has big-play speed and ability, and Florida would be content pounding the ball against a Cardinal defense that gave up 151 rushing yards per game in the regular season.
Who could steal the show: Louisville -- WR DeVante Parker. In order for the Cardinals to pull the upset, not only will Bridgewater have to be on his game, but his receivers will as well. Parker (6-3, 205) is the most capable big-play threat, with the size and strength tantamount to that of an SEC receiver. Florida -- S Matt Elam. The best defender of one of the nation's best units against the pass, Elam could end up with a pick or two. Bridgewater, though incredibly accurate, has thrown 19 career interceptions in less than two seasons. By the same token, the Florida secondary has picked 19 passes while giving up just five scores. Bridgewater certainly hasn't seen a defense this talented.
Magic number for Louisville: 5. Bridgewater has led five fourth-quarter drives that have tied the game or given the Cardinals the lead. Suffice to say Louisville will be happy to be in that situation Wednesday.
Magic number for Florida: 15.2. The Gators' 11 wins came by an average of just 15.2 points, a number skewed somewhat by laughers over Kentucky and South Carolina. Florida beat Louisiana-Lafayette by just seven, and Bowling Green by 13. For the sake of comparison, No. 2 Alabama's 12 wins came by an average of 30.5 points.
3 keys to a Louisville win
- Control Gillislee: The Cardinal defense struggled against the run -- especially late in the season -- and Gillislee is a game breaker capable of burying Louisville by himself. The Cards will have to find a way to keep him in check.
- Move the football: Florida doesn't give up many points, but if Louisville can at least pick up first downs and keep its own defense off the field, the Cards will have a better shot at keeping the game close and finding themselves in a position to win in the fourth quarter.
- Protect Bridgewater: Louisville can't win without him, and Florida knows that. The Gators will try to pressure Bridgewater all night in an attempt to force him into hurried throws.
3 keys to a Florida win
- Show up: The main danger for the Gators lies within motivation. This is a team that believes it should be playing for a national title, and the consolation prize of playing a not-so-big name may not resonate much with Florida. It would be easy for the Gators to sleep walk through the first quarter or so.
- Limit big plays: Bridgewater is incredibly efficient, but he can also hit on long passes. Florida cannot allow easy scores, especially with a suspect Gators offense to counter.
- Score early: As with any heavily-favored team, it's important to bury the underdog early. This is especially true of Florida, whose defense is almost impossible to score on. Fourteen quick points for the Gators, and that's it.
Prediction: Florida 30, Louisville 14
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