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DeFranks: Cards, ‘Canes, set to thrill (Dec. 10)

Matthew DeFranks | Monday, December 9, 2013

 

The best bowl game of this year will be played on Dec. 28 on the East coast featuring a once-proud powerhouse and an up-and-down American team that will soon be relocating to a different conference.

And while your eyes may be pinned on Yankee Stadium for Notre Dame’s “showdown” against Rutgers early in the day, your eyes should move to Orlando, Fla., for Miami’s matchup against probable first-round pick, junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and No. 18 Louisville.

Now you’re probably thinking about Miami and going, “Wow, why would I watch that team? The last three times (in the Sun Bowl against Notre Dame, in 2012 against Notre Dame and this season against Florida State) I watched them, they lost by a combined 81 points.”

And yes, the Hurricanes’ trademark win of the season came against 4-8 Florida and they gave away their shot for the ACC Coastal with a three-game losing streak in the middle of November. But this is about much more than what the team put on the field.

I mean, they put enough out there to win nine games and garner a top-10 ranking at one point in the season. But now that the cloud of the NCAA investigation into them has been lifted, the ‘Canes are now full speed ahead in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the first postseason game for the school since the Irish throttled them in 2010.

So senior quarterback Stephen Morris will get one more shot at a bowl victory and Miami could capture its first 10-win season since 2003. In 2003, Miami still played in the Orange Bowl, Larry Coker was the head coach and the school was still in some odd conference called the Big East.

So is this game big for Miami? You better believe it.

But what makes this game even bigger is whom they are playing.

Bridgewater is from Miami. He went to the same high school as former Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris. He was going to be a Hurricane – until he was not. Cardinals coach Charlie Strong (Florida’s former defensive coordinator) has invaded Miami-Dade County to poach the rich talent pool and bring them north. The Cardinals roster features 15 players from the Miami area, which likely has led to the quick turnaround for Strong.

Now, Bridgewater has blossomed into a potential first-round pick instead of a Jacory Harris-clone, as I thought he could become. But he has quietly put together a nice (but not Heisman-worthy) season, throwing for 3,523 yards and 28 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

He has already defeated a team from his home state in the postseason, routing Florida in the Sugar Bowl a year ago. And while the stakes are slightly diminished, Bridgewater should still come ready to play against his once future school.

Early in the season, Louisville was widely regarded as a sleeper national championship team because of its high preseason ranking and easy schedule. The Cardinals did not face a ranked (at the time they played them) team all season on their way to an 11-1 campaign.

But after their loss to then-unranked and future American Athletic Conference champions UCF, the Cardinals pretty much fell off the map. No one paid any attention to the machine that was buzzing in northern Kentucky.

While they backed into the bowl game with three consecutive seven-point wins, the Cardinals still averaged more than 35 points per game and ranked third in the country in scoring defense, yielding just 12.4 points per game.

If those storylines were not enough, Cardinals defensive line coach Clint Hurtt used to coach at “The U” and was a person of interest during the NCAA’s investigation.

So take a hungry Miami team that will be facing a talented Louisville laden with high school teammates and add coaching staffs that are battling for recruits. All you get is a great bowl game.

If you don’t think it will be, ask @RussellAthBowl on Twitter. He’ll surely convince you.

 

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not those of The Observer.