Russell Athletic Bowl breakdown: Louisville vs. Miami
Louisville (11-1) vs. Miami (9-3)
Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: This will likely be the final college game for Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. If he's leaving, then he may as well tote some baggage. For most of 2010, Bridgewater was a star at Miami Northwestern High and a prized commit for the Hurricanes' recruiting class of '11. Then coach Randy Shannon got fired, and Bridgewater reopened his recruitment. He wound up at Louisville, where he became a star and the potential top pick in the NFL draft. This wasn't how the Cardinals planned to end this season. While their schedule was so weak that a national title shot seemed far-fetched, they thought they'd play in a second consecutive BCS bowl. A late letdown against visiting UCF on Oct. 18 ended that dream, but Louisville can exit the Zombie Big East on a winning note by beating an opponent that will be a conference rival next season. In fact, these two will play an ACC game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in '14.
• Keep an eye on: Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, because both the signal-callers in this game will likely play on Sundays. Morris threw two of the most beautiful touchdown passes you'll ever see in the first half of a loss at Florida State on Nov. 2, but he also tossed two second-half interceptions as the 'Canes collapsed under the weight of the eventual ACC champs. (Miami was ranked in the top 10 when that game was played. That was last month. It only seems like last year.) Such is the duality of Morris, who mixes aerial artistry with balls forced into coverage. To watch him is to be delighted and frustrated, occasionally on the same play. Even though Miami is 2-2 in its past four games -- thanks largely to the season-ending ankle injury suffered by tailback Duke Johnson -- Morris has been solid. During that stretch, he completed 76-of-132 passes with nine touchdowns and two picks. If Morris, who plays behind a solid line, can continue in that vein, he can probably move the ball as well as UCF's Blake Bortles did when he helped the Knights beat the Cardinals.
• Did you know: This game pits two programs that were rejuvenated by Howard Schnellenberger. He turned the previously downtrodden Hurricanes into a power in the early 1980s, winning the national title in '83 and launching a dynasty. He left after that season for the USFL, but he never actually coached a game in the league. In '85, Schnellenberger returned to his hometown with the intention of putting the Cardinals on the map. He did, leading them to the Fiesta Bowl following the '90 season. In that game, quarterback Browning Nagle and the Cardinals crushed Alabama in Louisville's first New Year's Day appearance. In honor of Schnellenberger's contributions, announcers should refer to this game as the Schnelly Bowl, and the winning coach should be presented with a sport coat and a pipe.
• Final analysis: Miami's defense made Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas look like Joe Montana in a 42-24 loss to the Hokies on Nov. 9. If the Hurricanes play the same way in Orlando, Bridgewater will shred them. If Miami's defense looks like it did in the first half at Florida State -- when it forced eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston into two interceptions -- then the 'Canes have an excellent chance to hang with the Cardinals. In the four games since Johnson's injury, running back Dallas Crawford has averaged 3.9 yards a carry. He'll have to give Miami more than that on Saturday to make the play-action game work and keep Louisville's excellent safeties (Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith) worried about more than just the pass.
• The pick: Louisville 38, Miami 31