The running theme among sportswriters for Wednesday night’s Sugar Bowl goes something like this: The Florida Gators are more talented than Louisville at every position but the position that counts most — quarterback.
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples makes this a rather direct point, noting:
Bridgewater is the player most likely to serve as an equalizer. Of course, Florida has beaten some pretty good quarterbacks already — including Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Staples goes on to say that Florida should win “easily” provided they don’t phone in the game.
That’s not particularly encouraging analysis for Cardinals fans. The Las Vegas oddsmakers aren’t expecting much of a game, either. The Cardinals will start the game as a 14-point underdog. The only team favored as strongly as Florida in a major bowl game were Florida State against Northern Illinois, a team from the Mid-Atlantic Conference whose big-league bona fides were questionable.
Though Tuesday night’s Orange Bowl was close early, Florida State won 31-10.
Louisville is no Northern Illinois, Cardinals fans may say.
The conventional wisdom is, essentially, that Florida operates at a higher level — better players playing better opponents in the Southeastern Conference. The Courier-Journal’s Tim Sullivan recently picked up on this point. He writes:
Yet all of those University of Kentucky killjoys who have been so quick to point out the relative strength of the Southeastern Conference versus the Big East this past season are probably as accurate as they are annoying. According to the Sagarin Ratings, Florida’s strength of schedule ranked eighth in college football last fall; Louisville’s 82nd. Over the past three years, 129 SEC players have been selected in the National Football League draft compared to 52 from the Big East.
Seemingly, the only people who aren’t taking the safe bet in predicting a Florida victory are the Gators. In that old sports trope, the Florida coaches and players are saying that they won’t take Louisville lightly. In a recent Gainesville Sun story, Florida Coach Will Muschamp dubbed “hogwash” the suggestions that the Florida players aren’t taking the Cardinals seriously.
OK. So for the Cardinals to win, Bridgewater has to have a crazy game. WDRB’s Eric Crawford echoes the others’ sentiment, and notes that the UofL quarterback wrist injury from earlier in the season may be a factor in how well he plays.
There’s a secondary theme to the Sugar Bowl in Strong’s ties to the Florida program. He was an assistant coach in Gainesville for years before coming to Louisville. Here’s ESPN’s GatorNation blog:
Hunter said the way Strong treated players made them want to play hard for him. That’s evident by what the Gators accomplished during Strong’s fourth stint at UF as the defensive coordinator from 2003-09. UF’s defense was a huge part of UF’s two national titles under Meyer.
So that’s what sportswriters are are saying. Louisville is an underdog, which is OK with Strong. Strong has close ties to Florida.
Game starts at 8:30 Wednesday night.