UF football

Florida Gators are Sugar Bowl-bound against Louisville


UF is headed to New Orleans to play Louisville, coached by former Gators assistant Charlie Strong.

Special to The Miami Herald

Florida is back in familiar territory.

Just three years removed from the program’s last national title and a year after playing in the Gator Bowl, coach Will Muschamp’s Gators are BCS-bound for the seventh time in program history.

Florida (11-1) earned an automatic berth in one of the four top bowls by finishing No. 3 in the final BCS standings and will play Big East co-champion and No. 21 Louisville (10-2) in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 2.

“Our guys were really jacked up after we beat Florida State,” coach Will Muschamp said. “We knew we’d be in a BCS game and probably the Sugar Bowl. They were extremely excited.”

Even though Florida has arguably the best resume of any team in the country, there was talk UF could be left out of the discussion for a BCS bowl in favor of two-loss Georgia, which beat Florida in October but lost to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Saturday.

That didn’t happen, as the Gators climbed to No. 4 in both the USA Today Coaches Poll and the Harris Poll while retaining their top-two ranking in most of the computer polls. The Bulldogs fell to No. 7 and will play No. 16 Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

And while Muschamp said he is looking forward to the playoff system that will be instituted in 2014, he also said he isn’t making excuses for Florida being left out of the title discussion this year.

“It is what it is this year,” he said. “We had our opportunity in Jacksonville [against Georgia], and we didn’t get it done. That’s our fault.’’

Louisville earned the berth by beating Rutgers in the Big East championship game on Thursday. The Cardinals are currently coached by former Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who accepted the Louisville job before Florida played in New Orleans after the 2009 season.

There are many connections between the two programs. Strong spoke Sunday night about a familiarity with the upperclassmen on Florida’s roster that he helped recruit.

Former Florida assistants Vance Bedford, Kenny Carter and Tommy Restivo are also on Strong’s staff at Louisville. And three players have transferred from Florida to Louisville since Strong has held the job: tight end Gerald Christian, wide receiver Robert Clark and cornerback Adrian Bushell.

Strong, who developed a strong South Florida recruiting base while in Gainesville, has several area players in prominent roles, including starting sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from Northwestern High. In all, Louisville has 15 players on its two-deep depth chart from the Miami area.

Florida is making its ninth appearance in the Sugar Bowl and seventh appearance in a BCS bowl, but its first under Muschamp, and Louisville will be playing in the game for the first time and only the second BCS bowl in the school’s history.

But, in an interesting wrinkle to watch in the lead-up to the game, there’s a chance Strong again misses the chance to coach in the Sugar Bowl. He accepted the Louisville job on Dec. 9, 2009 and did not coach Florida’s defense against Cincinnati.

Now, Strong is a hot name for openings in the SEC and has had talks with Auburn, according to reports.

The Gators opened as 16.5-point favorites.

“This is a team that was one game away from playing for a national title,” Strong said of Florida. “We’re nowhere near that right now.”

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