Louisville dominated Florida, posting a 33-23 win in the Sugar Bowl.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It was the kind of crackling performance that will have the pre-season magazines on the telephone to the University of Louisville football offices before the Cardinals' plane returns from New Orleans.
There is a lot to discuss, interviews to arrange, pictures to stage.
U of L will be considered a national championship contender next season. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be on the Heisman Trophy short list. Charlie Strong has positioned himself with the Who's Who of college football coaches.
The Atlantic Coast Conference might see what can be done to get U of L into its new league as quickly as possible. A recruiting windfall seems inevitable. There is probably more. But that's a good start.
On a night when every wise-guy thought the Cardinals would lose by two touchdowns (or more), the Cardinals punished Florida, 33-23, in the Louisiana Superdome.
The Gators thought they deserved to be considered for the BCS Championship game, more worthy than Alabama perhaps. Actually, Louisville had more trouble with Florida International, South Florida and several other programs SEC snobs love to look down on. No longer does U of L have to suffer the talk about the dreadful Big East and the almighty SEC.
"It's funny to watch," Strong said at the post-game press conference. "People get to the Big East (and) they say don't talk about the Big East, they don't play anybody.
"I hope tonight they opened up their eyes, because on any given night, if you prepare well, if you focus in and if the preparation's there for your team, you can go beat anybody. That just shows tonight ‑‑ it doesn't matter. There's so much parity in college football right now, who is to say who is the best team out there."
Don't be misled by the score. The Cardinals were at least two touchdowns better than the Gators for most of the evening. Check the penalty yards (Florida 98, U of L 25) and third-down conversions (U of L 9 of 14, Florida 3 of 10). They don't leave any doubt which team was more poised and better prepared.
All day the ESPN analysts had been talking about the game as if they were encouraging viewers to search for other programming.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay said the Florida defense was a "horrible" matchup for the Louisville offense. Jesse Palmer said the Gators would win easily because U of L would not be able to block the Florida defensive front. David Pollack said something about a 15-point Florida victory feeling more like a 30-point win. An EA Sports computer simulation of the matchup had the Gators winning, 37-23.
This is what happened: Louisville scored on Florida's first snap, turning an intercepted pass into a touchdown.
It was only eight seconds into the second half when the Cardinals had already scored more points against Florida than any team had scored against the Gators this season – and Florida played Louisiana State, South Carolina and Georgia.
For nearly three decades, the University of Kentucky had made football fans in this area believe that beating Florida is the real mission impossible. The Gators are too fast, too talented, too deep, and too relentless. They've beaten UK 26 straight, outscoring the Wildcats, 86-10, the last two seasons.
Louisville changed that perception in less than four hours. The Cards might not be faster, but they were certainly tougher and more determined. The Gators were down two touchdowns at halftime – and they were already acting as if they didn't believe they could catch up, trying one of eventually three failed on-side kicks to start the second half.
The game became so one-sided that the chatter turned to next season. With Louisville returning 16 starters, the Cardinals are a cinch to start 2013 in the pre-season Top 10. When you flatten one of the signature programs in the SEC, a program that won national titles in 2006 and again in 2008, your credibility is no longer an issue.
"I think it's a big win for us," U of L safety Calvin Pryor said. "And going into next season it will give us a confidence builder we can play with anybody in the nation. Like Teddy said, this is the reason we came here, this is the reason we came to play for Coach Strong, to play in big moments like this. I think it's a big win for the program and for the city of Louisville."
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville's unflappable sophomore quarterback, had barely wrapped his hands around the Sugar Bowl MVP award, when more speculation began:
Where does Bridgewater rank on the list of 2013 Heisman Trophy contenders?
"I wouldn't be in this situation right now and this predicament without my teammates," Bridgewater said. "Right now I'm just enjoying this moment. The Heisman campaign may start, but right now I'm just enjoying this moment."
This is where: He'll be right there with 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M as well as Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Southern California receiver Marqise Lee.
The pre-season magazines will want to talk to Bridgewater about that. They'll have a lot of stories to pursue with the University of Louisville.