Miami Hurricanes (9-3) vs. #18 Louisville Cardinals (11-1) 12/28- 6:45PM EST
RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL- Orlando, FL
Line: LOU -3.5
In what will likely be Teddy Bridgewater’s final game in a Louisville Cardinals’ uniform as he is expected to declare for the NFL draft, he will lead his football team against the Miami Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Saturday night.
Saturday’s bowl matchup will also feature two teams that will become conference rivals as #18 Louisville will be moving into the ACC next year to join Miami.. a team that Florida native Bridgewater had originally committed to before deciding on Louisville.
With Bridgewater expected to be a sure top 10 NFL pick next April, the junior quarterback who was a leading candidate for the Heisman before falling off is looking to go out on top come Saturday.
With a 38-35 defeat to Central Florida back on October 18th and failing to throw for 300 yards in his final four games with only five touchdown passes, he saw his Heisman Trophy chances go by the wayside as he was not invited to New York as a finalist.
Despite his lack of production towards the end of the season, Bridgewater still finished with 3,523 yards and 28 touchdowns with only four interceptions to finish as the nation’s fifth-leading passer, but in the end couldn’t get his Cardinals (11-1) back to a BCS bowl after last year’s Sugar Bowl win over Florida.
“This is a very talented young man. He has great command on the offense,” Miami coach Al Golden said.
Miami (9-3) had recruited Bridgewater successfully and had a verbal commitment back in 2010, but after the firing of then head coach Randy Shannon following a 7-6 season, Bridgewater bolted for Louisville.
The Cardinals have 23 Miami-area natives on their team and are thrilled to be going back home to face a Miami team of players many have played against growing up.
“When they found out, it was like ‘We’re playing back at home again, we’re playing basically our teammates and the people that they play in high school,’” said senior defensive end Marcus Smith, a Georgia native who is the AAC defensive player of the year. “Feeling that with them is gonna be great one.”
Miami will be playing in their first postseason game since 2010, when the university implemented a self-imposed two-year bowl ban due to improper benefits from a booster. Former Miami assistant Clint Hurtt who was implicated in the scandal is now on the Cardinals staff.
Early on, the Hurricanes were a top 25 team but lost three in a row and fell out of the rankings, but now look to post their first double-digit wins since the 2003 season.
“Our kids are excited, I think they’re grateful.” Golden said. “They’ve been through a lot the past two years, and they have not been able to have this opportunity.
“They’re practicing with a purpose, they’re excited, and clearly they have a really tough opponent coming up.”
The Hurricanes feel they have a great quarterback of their own in the likes of Stephen Morris, who threw for 2,868 yards with 21 touchdowns and looks forward to matching up with Bridgewater.
“It’d be a great challenge and a great headline for a lot people,” Morris said
Louisville will be moving to the ACC’s Atlantic Division next season, while the Canes are in the Coastal but are scheduled to play one another next year.
“When we go play in the ACC next year, I think (the bowl) will put our stamp on this season, and it will tell the world that we can play with teams in the ACC and we can play with anybody,” Smith said.
The oddsmakers feel the Cardinals can play with the Hurricanes now as they have made them a (minus -3.5) point favorite, but get the latest lines on the game up until kickoff right here at Wonder Punter.
Smith finished second in the nation with 12 ½ sacks and with a Cardinals defense that ranked second in the FBS allowing only 257.9 yards per game and has been dominate against the run allowing just 86.3 yards per contest, I like and predict the Cardinals making it a happy home coming for many of its players.
Miami top rusher Duke Johnson suffered a season-ending injury with a broken ankle back in mid-season to make the challenge that much greater against the Cardinals defense, but expect an entertaining bowl game.
By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter