The 79th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Football Classic will feature the University of Florida, from the Southeastern Conference, against the University of Louisville, from the Big East Conference, on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN. This year will mark the 27th time the Sugar Bowl has featured two 10-win teams.
"We're very excited to be welcoming the University of Florida and the University of Louisville to New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl," said Sugar Bowl Committee President Jack Laborde. "Each year, we have the pleasure of welcoming thousands of fans to this great city and showing off all it has to offer - world-class cuisine, trend-setting music, outstanding gridiron competition and more. We look forward to introducing our unique flavor of hospitality to all of the players, coaches, administrators and fans from these two great schools."
This will be the ninth Sugar Bowl appearance by the Gators, tied for the third-most in history. Florida is 3-5 in its eight previous Sugar Bowl appearances, which most recently included a 51-24 win over Cincinnati in the 2010 game and also included a 52-20 victory over Florida State for the 1997 National Championship (1996 season). The Gators' first Sugar Bowl appearance was in the 1966 Sugar Bowl, a 20-18 loss to Missouri, despite an MVP-performance by quarterback Steve Spurrier. Louisville, meanwhile, will be making its first appearance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Cardinals will be the fourth newcomer to the Sugar Bowl in the last six years. Schools that are currently in the SEC have registered an all-time mark of 34-37-1 in the Sugar Bowl, while this will be the eighth appearance in the game by a current member of the Big East. In addition to Cincinnati's 2010 appearance, Pittsburgh has a 2-1 mark in the game, Syracuse is 0-1-1 and Temple is 0-1, having played in the inaugural Sugar Bowl, losing 20-14 to Tulane, then a member of the SEC.
"We're very pleased to have the opportunity to host these two outstanding teams in this year's Allstate Sugar Bowl," Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan said. "The Sugar Bowl Committee has worked hard over the years to present outstanding match-ups that produce thrilling games. In Will Muschamp and Charlie Strong, we have two of the country's top young coaches and we know both will have their teams ready to play on January 2nd. We have little doubt that this game will produce another memorable chapter in the great history of the Sugar Bowl."
Florida (11-1, 7-1 SEC) was the Bowl's first at-large pick, selected to replace SEC Champion Alabama, the Bowl's anchor team, when the Crimson Tide was tabbed for the BCS National Championship Game. The Gators were an automatic-qualifier to the BCS after finishing No. 3 in the final BCS Standings. This will be Florida's seventh BCS bowl appearance - it has won five of its previous games.
Louisville (10-2, 5-2 Big East) was the second at-large selection for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Cardinals, who in 2012 posted their fifth 10-win season, are the champions of the Big East Conference. They will be the 87th conference champion to play in the Sugar Bowl. Louisville, which closed the season ranked No. 21 in the final BCS Standings, will be making its second appearance in a BCS game - it defeated Wake Forest 24-14 in the 2007 Orange Bowl.
This will be the third meeting between Florida and Louisville. The first meeting came on Oct. 25, 1980 as the Gators topped the Cardinals, 13-0, in Gainesville. On Oct. 24, 1992, Florida upended Louisville, 31-17, also at home.
Florida has a 9-4-2 all-time mark against Big East teams, while Louisville is 12-33-1 all-time against the SEC (current membership). Despite making their first Sugar Bowl appearance, the Cardinals are no strangers to New Orleans and the Superdome - Louisville played Tulane five times in the 'Dome, posting a 4-1 record.
Louisville is led by head coach Charlie Strong, who has recorded a record of 24-14 (.632) in his three season at the helm of the Cardinal program. Strong accepted the Louisville position after serving as an assistant coach at Florida from 2003-2009 where he developed into one of the top defensive coordinators in the country. His last game as a member of the Gator staff was the 2010 Allstate Sugar Bowl victory. Strong has also coached at Notre Dame (1995-98) and South Carolina (1999-2002). Florida head coach Will Muschamp, took over the Gator program following the 2010 season, and has posted an 18-7 (.720) in two years. Prior to heading to Gainesville, Muschamp was the defensive coordinator at Texas for three years. He also coached at LSU (2001-2004) and at Auburn (2006-07) in the SEC. Strong, who is 52 years old, played four years at Central Arkansas. The 41-year old Muschamp was a four-year letterman at safety for Georgia.
Offensively, the two teams bring contrasting styles as Florida relies on a relentless running game, which ranks No. 35 in the nation with 194.5 rushing yards per game behind senior running back Mike Gillislee, despite playing in the defensive-minded Southeastern Conference, and Louisville looks to star sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to lead a deadly passing attack which ranks 24th in the nation with 295.58 yards per game. Overall, the Gators average 338.42 yards per game, while the Cardinals tally 425.67 yards per outing. The Gator defense has proven to be among the best in the nation, allowing just 12.92 points (third in the country) and 283.42 yards per game (fifth in the nation). The Cardinals also bring a strong defense to the table, allowing just 23.83 points (37th in the nation) and 344.82 yards per game (25th in the country). Louisville comes into the bowl averaging 31.0 points per game, while Florida has 26.75 points per game.
Bridgewater is the breakout star for Louisville. He leads the Big East and ranks eighth in the nation in passing efficiency (161.62). He has completed 267-of-387 (69.0) passes for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. The signal-caller for the Gators is sophomore Jeff Driskel, who has completed 140-of-216 (64.8) of his passes for 1,471 yards and 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Driskel has also run for 404 yards and four scores.
In the offensive backfield, Florida's Gillislee became the sixth Gator to run for 1,000 yards in a season this year. He currently has 1,104 yards with 10 touchdowns. Louisville brings a two-headed running attack to the fray as juniors Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry have combined for 1,445 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. The Cardinals have 11 players with 10 or more receptions this year, led by junior Damian Copeland, who has 48 catches for 597 yards. Florida junior tight end Jordan Reed has 44 catches for 552 yards to lead six Gators with 15 or more receptions this year.
Defensively, Florida looks to senior linebacker Jon Bostic to lead the way. The veteran has 62 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions this year. In addition, senior defensive back Josh Evans has a team-best 79 tackles with a pair of interceptions and junior defensive back Matt Elam has 65 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four pick-offs. The Cardinals are led defensively by junior linebacker Preston Brown's 96 tackles. Sophomore safety Calvin Pryor has 94 tackles and two interceptions and senior cornerback Adrian Bushell has tallied 59 takedowns as well as 11 pass break-ups and three fumble recoveries.
As expected, Florida relies heavily on players from the Sunshine State with 76 in-state products. However, Louisville also has a strong-Florida presence with 34 players. The Cardinals have 41 Kentucky products on its roster, while Florida has just one - senior Sam Robey, from Louisville, who has played in all 12 games on the offensive line. Florida's Damien Jacobs is the only Louisiana product in the game. Jacobs is from Gibson, La., 71 miles Southwest of New Orleans. He is a graduate of H.L. Bourgeois High School and joined the Gators this year after transferring from East Mississippi Community College. He played in 11 games on the defensive line this year.
The Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com projects Florida to win by 10.96 points. That's the 6th largest margin that it gives any matchup among this year's 35 bowl games.