News Column

Florida to Face Louisville in Sugar Bowl

Dec. 3, 2012

Jason Lieser

The Gators will finish their breakthrough season in New Orleans.

Florida earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl by going 11-1 and finishing third in the BCS standings. It will face Louisville, which qualified by winning the Big East despite finishing 21st in the BCS standings.

The Gators solidified their spot by beating Florida State 37-26 in Tallahassee on Nov. 24. By finishing in the top four, they were assured entry to a BCS bowl.

"Our guys were really jacked up after we beat Florida State," coach Will Muschamp said Sunday. "We knew we'd be in a BCS game."

There was a UF-Oklahoma showdown in play for the Sugar Bowl, but upstart Northern Illinois spoiled it. From the MAC, No. 15 NIU claimed a place in a BCS bowl by finishing in the top 16 of the standings and ahead of at least one automatic-qualifying conference champion, which happened to be Louisville.

When it was time for the Sugar Bowl to pair a team with UF, the only choices were Louisville or NIU.

Florida has played Louisville twice, winning in 1980 and '92 in Gainesville.

The Sugar Bowl is at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 2 at the Superdome and will host Florida for the ninth time, while Louisville is making its debut. The Gators are 4-5 all-time, with their most recent appearance being a 51-24 rout of Cincinnati in January 2010.

Since then, the postseason has been frustrating for UF. The following year, it ended the regular season 7-5 and sneaked into the Outback Bowl in part because it was former coach Urban Meyer's final game with the team.

Last season, the Gators became bowl eligible only by beating Furman and landed in the Gator Bowl, which typically has the seventh pick in the SEC.

This year, they were among the most attractive programs in the country, let alone their conference.

"This is a (Florida) team that was one game away from playing for a national title, and we're nowhere near that right now," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "We'll see where we are. We're facing a better football team."

Strong's history at Florida is rich. He was the defensive coordinator from 2003 through '09 and helped the school win the 2006 and '08 national titles under Meyer.

"Everywhere he's been, they've been really good on defense," Muschamp said of Strong. "He does it the right way. I've just got a lot of respect for him and he's one of the good guys in this profession."

As expected, No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama will play for the national title at Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 7. The stadium also will host the Orange Bowl between Florida State (12th in the BCS) and Northern Illinois.

Kansas State got into the Fiesta Bowl as Big 12 champion. That bowl had first pick among at-large possibilities and took Oregon, which finished one spot behind UF.

The Rose Bowl will feature sixth-ranked Stanford against Wisconsin, a team that is unranked at 8-5 but won the Big Ten championship by routing Nebraska.

Heading into the weekend, Florida was fourth, but expected to pass the loser of the SEC Championship Game. Alabama beat Georgia 32-28, sending the Bulldogs down to the Capital One Bowl.

Some, including Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, believed it was unfair for Florida to move ahead of Georgia (11-2), but Muschamp is tired of hearing it.

"We all sit there before the season and agree on all these rules," he said. "I'm not saying we all have to like them, but when we want to complain about the rules ... I mean, we started the season understanding the rules of engagement."

Source: (c)2012 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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