In less than five hours, the Florida Gators will hit the field one final time to close out the 2012 season. Their opponent–the Louisville Cardinals–is an unfamiliar one, and the place–the Sugar Bowl–hasn’t been as known to the Gators as one would have hoped in recent years. The two teams face off with that pride thing on the line, but also much more. For the Gators, it’s a chance at an unlikely 12-1 season and a BCS bowl game victory one season before many thought it was possible.
As we head into tonight’s game and the Time That Forgot College Football beyond it, here are five final thoughts on the Sugar Bowl.
1. Charlie Strong being a former Florida Gators’ assistant coach does not give Louisville an advantage. Okay, so having Strong as a head coach period might–the man is very good at what he does–but he didn’t leave Gainesville a year ago. He left long before the current staff and system was in place. This is his third season with the Cardinals. Do the math. Will Muschamp is in his second with the Gators and it feels like offensive coordinator Brent Pease only just got here. Strong gives his team many advantages, but familiarity with what the Gators do today isn’t one of them. Sure, he’s familiar with some of the older players and even had a large part in bringing some of them to the University of Florida, but that is vastly different than someone that may have left just one season ago.
2. Yes, Teddy Bridgewater is that good. In only his sophomore season, Bridgewater is already one of the better quarterbacks in the country. He ranked seventh in the nation is passer rating–161.6–and sixth in completion percentage–60.0%. The sophomore is constantly improving. Even in Louisville’s two losses, Bridgewater’s touchdown-to-interception ratio was 5-to-2. The Gators’ secondary will be on alert. This kid can throw the ball.
3. The Gators’ sophomore quarterback–Jeff Driskel–hasn’t climbed as high as Bridgewater as quickly, but he has rather efficiently led Florida to an 11-1 record. Driskel may not wow you for 59 minutes, but then suddenly he does. He wasn’t asked to throw nearly as much as Bridgewater–216 to 387–but he showed signs of improvement over time. The passing yards aren’t there, but neither are the interceptions; Driskel only threw three all season. As the offense evolves, so does Driskel. He may never be a 3,000-yard passer, but in 11 starts in 2012 (come on, let’s just go ahead and give him the start for the Bowling Green game), he went 10-1. I’ll take it.
4. On that note, many of you will say “well, it was the defense, not the offense.” For the most part I won’t argue with you and because of that I’ll give a shout of to that side of the ball right here. Jon Bostic, gone. Sharrif Floyd, probably gone. Omar Hunter, gone. Matt Elam, probably gone. Those are just a few names. Just a few of the standouts on this year’s defense. Some of the stars will return, but others won’t. For some, this is it. This is their final game in a Gators’ uniform. Play for whatever you want to play for tonight, but make it count. Do it one final time and prove to the nation again just how good you can be.
5. And finally, enjoy it all. This isn’t just to the players, but also to us–the fans. This isn’t the Outback Bowl or Capital One Bowl or Gator Bowl. This is the Sugar Bowl. It’s one of the big ones. It’s one of the ones many Florida fans feel the Gators belong in. We want this every year, so don’t look over it when it comes as a surprise. This is what we want to see from our Gators. We want 10+ wins, we want to beat Florida State, we want to be in the top five and we want bowl games. When a national championship isn’t in the picture, this is what we want. Enjoy tonight, because tomorrow starts the long, cold, dead period.