ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) At different points of the season, LSU and Louisville were contenders for the four-team College Football Playoffs.
The Tigers entered the season fifth in the Top 25 and late into the regular season the Cardinals were No.5 in the College Football Playoff poll. But losses knocked both out of the CFP mix and the landed in Saturday's Citrus Bowl.
It's not where either team thought it would be but the Tigers and Cardinals say there is plenty of motivation to finish the season strong.
''This is the last game I get to play with my teammates, and I want to have a good memory as well,'' said Louisville senior linebacker Keith Kelsey, who is from nearby Gainesville, Florida. ''A lot of us are from here as well, you know, families, friends, everybody in the stands. We've got a lot to play for.''
But there is no doubt both teams have had to overcome a lot during a season of high expectations for both.
The 15th-ranked Cardinals (9-3, ACC), with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, blew their chance to compete for the national title when they dropped their final two games to Houston and rival Kentucky after moving to No.5 in the CFP rankings in Week 12. Louisville landed in the middle of a controversy after it was learned that a former Wake Forest radio analyst had leaked the Demon Deacons game plan to a member of the Cardinals' coaching staff.
''There are struggles on and off the field,'' Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. ''This football team has done a great job for 10 weeks, really 11 weeks throughout the season. We're in the mention for the playoffs and being there. We stumbled at the end.''
The No. 19 Tigers (7-4, SEC), meanwhile, fired head coach Les Miles after a 2-2 start. LSU replaced Miles with Ed Orgeron, who was initially given the interim title but earlier this month was named the permanent coach.
Orgeron, who failed at Ole Miss but performed admirably as the interim head coach at both USC (6-2) and LSU (5-2), acknowledged that he is feeling some added pressure now that he is officially the coach.
''It is a natural deal and those thoughts have come across my mind but I can't let it be a factor,'' Orgeron said. "I promised myself when I got the interim job, I was going to be the head coach at LSU. And there's nothing there's changed in my demeanor or what I've done, but I understand the magnitude and this isn't my first game and I'm going to be judged whether I win or lose.''
Some other things to watch in the Citrus Bowl matchup between LSU and Louisville:
ASSUMING THE THRONE: Much has been made out of LSU running back Leonard Fournette's decision to not play in the bowl game in order to get ready for the NFL Draft, but sophomore Derrius Guice has proven the Tigers offense won't miss much. Guice, a much shiftier runner than Fournette, ran for 285 yards and four touchdowns in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M. Despite playing a secondary role to Fournette for much of the season, Guice has ran for 1,249 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging eight yards per rush.
MISSING IN ACTION: Petrino confirmed that sack leader James Hearns and his backup Henry Famurewa will not be available for Saturday's game. Hearns, who leads the Cardinals with eight sacks this season, has an elbow injury and Petrino said Famurewa sustained a foot and shoulder injury. Petrino did not disclose how the players were injured but said he expects both to make full recoveries.
KEY MATCHUP: There is no secret the Cardinals best weapon is Jackson. The Heisman Trophy winner can make plays with his arm and legs. It will be LSU All-American safety Jamal Adams job to try and contain the Louisville quarterback. Adams has 70 tackles, 6 1/s tackles for loss, an interception, a forced fumble and fumble recovery on the season.
HEISMAN HANGOVER: Petrino said that Jackson wasn't quite himself after returning to practice following his whirlwind of Heisman Trophy dinners and celebrations that come with winning the prestigious award. But Petrino insists Jackson has gotten past the sluggishness from the celebrations and has looked like his normal explosive self during practices leading up to the bowl game.
COACH DOWN: The Cardinals coaching staff has been a coach down after co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway was suspended earlier this month after being implicated in the Wake Forest game plan leak.
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