Judging by the spread, the Sugar Bowl between Big East champion Louisville and BCS No. 3 Florida should be a mismatch. But the Cardinals are likely to be highly motivated as they are playing in just their second BCS bowl the first being the Jan. 2, 2007, Sugar Bowl, which Louisville won over Wake Forest.
Louisville (10-2) was ranked in the Top 10 after winning its first nine games, but that might have been fool’s gold as not one of the teams was ranked. The Cards then lost back-to-back games at Syracuse and vs. Connecticut so, yeah, you can see why they should lose to Florida before beating Rutgers 20-17 in a de facto Big East title game. Star QB Teddy Bridgewater played that game (he didn’t start) with a broken left wrist and couldn’t take snaps under center. The Big East Offensive Player of the Year certainly will play and start in this game and should be mostly healed with the month or so off.
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BCS bowls used to be old hat for Florida (11-1), but this is the Gators’ first since the 2009 season. But UF still thinks it belongs in the BCS Championship Game with the quality of competition it beat. And it might have been if not for coughing up the ball six times in a loss to Georgia that still stings. UF’s five-game regular-season improvement from last season was the school’s biggest one season jump in 32 years. This is Florida’s 19th January bowl game since 1993, the most in the country. It’s also the Gators’ eighth straight. UF last played in the Sugar following the 2009 season, routing a Cincinnati team that didn’t have head coach Brian Kelly he had taken the Notre Dame job.
Florida leads the all-time series with Louisville 2-0, although the teams haven’t played since 1992.
Louisville vs. Florida Betting Storylines
The one common bond between these teams is Louisville coach Charlie Strong. He was a former Florida defensive coordinator who was hired at Louisville in 2010. And Strong recruits the Sunshine State like a madman to this day. In fact, the Cardinals have a whopping 35 players from Florida, which is more than twice as many as any SEC school other than the Gators (57). And no matter what happens in this game, Louisville will be happy. That’s because Strong decided not to take the Tennessee job and got a nice new extension. Had Louisville not been given an ejector seat from the dissipating Big East to the ACC, Strong probably would have left. Strong’s last game with the Gators was that Sugar Bowl win over the Bearcats.
Bridgewater, who is from Miami and originally committed to the Hurricanes before changing his mind after Randy Shannon was fired, completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,452 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven picks this year (No. 7 nationally in rating). But considering Louisville didn’t face a single ranked team, he’s in for a likely rude awakening against Florida. The Gators have the nation's No. 1 pass efficiency defense (91.5 rating), and that unit is also No. 3 nationally in allowing 12.9 points per game, fifth in total defense and sixth in rushing. Louisville had a nice two-headed monster of Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry at running back as they combined for 1,445 yards and 20 touchdowns however, Perry was lost for the season in November.
The Gators, meanwhile, don’t throw much and rely heavily on workhorse running back Mike Gillislee, who carried 235 times for 1,104 yards and 10 scores. He pretty much single-handedly beat LSU and had 140 yards and two scores as UF rallied past FSU in the regular-season finale. All UF coach Will Muschamp asks starting QB Jeff Driskel to do is manage the game and not turn it over. Driskel usually obliged. He completed 64.8 percent) of his passes for 1,471 yards and 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He also ran for 404 yards and four scores. In that UF loss to Georgia, Driskel had two picks. Louisville’s defense ranks No. 16 nationally against the pass and No. 25 in total defense.
Louisville vs. Florida Betting Odds and Trends
At BetOnline, Florida is a 13.5-point favorite with the total at 45.5. The Cardinals were 5-7 ATS this season and 6-5 “over/under”. UF is 7-5 ATS and 4-7 O/U.
Louisville is 2-5 ATS in its past seven after a win and 0-5 in its past five after an ATS win. Florida is 4-0 ATS in its past four bowl games. The Gators are 5-1 in their past six games following an ATS win but 1-4 ATS in their past five overall. The over is 4-1 in UL’s past five after a win. The under is 6-1 in UF’s past seven nonconference games.
2013 Sugar Bowl Picks: Louisville vs. Florida Betting Predictions
For what it’s worth, both these teams played Kentucky this year. The Cards won at home 32-14 in their season opener. The Gators routed the Wildcats 38-0 a few weeks later in Gainesville. Here’s what stands out: UK had 373 yards and 24 first downs against Louisville and 219 and 12 vs. Florida.
Florida had great success against a quarterback similar to Bridgewater, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel. He was just 18-of-33 for 182 yards with one TD, three picks and a fumble. He did run for a 22-yard score as well, but the game was over by then.
Realistically the only chance Louisville has to win is to win the turnover battle significantly. However, the Gators have forced 29 of them and have a plus-17 turnover margin. I can’t see Louisville winning, but I think Florida is conservative enough for the Cards to just cover. Take the under.
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