GAINESVILLE, Fla. – My guess is that if you are reading this you know the Gators are facing Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in New Orleans.
Most Florida fans probably know that former Gators assistant Charlie Strong is Louisville’s head coach. Strong turned down an offer last week from Tennessee to stay at Louisville, where he took over in 2010.
"It became clear to me that it was best to stay in Louisville," Strong said at a news conference Thursday. “We haven't finished the job yet.”
You may know that former Florida assistants Kenny Carter (running backs/special teams) and Vance Bedford (defensive coordinator) left the Gators to join Strong’s staff after the 2009 season. So did defensive backs coach Tommy Restivo, a graduate assistant at UF in 2008 and 2009.
Finally, you likely know that Louisville’s roster features three former Gators – cornerback Adrian Bushell and two transfers who had to sit out this season: tight end Gerald Christian and Robert Clark.
Another former UF player, Pat Moorer, is the Cardinals’ strength-and-conditioning coordinator.
If you knew all the above, you might be a closet Cardinals fan.
Regardless, here is a closer look at Louisville and hopefully a few tidbits you don’t know:
-- The Gators are 2-0 all-time against Louisville, winning both matchups in Gainesville. The first came on Homecoming in 1980 when the Gators won 13-0. That was a tough season for the then-independent Cardinals, who faced Miami, Florida State and Florida that year. Louisville lost all three games. Meanwhile, the second meeting between the schools came in 1992, again on Homecoming. In Steve Spurrier’s third season at Florida, he guided the Gators to a 31-17 win over Howard Schnellenberger’s Cardinals.
-- Speaking of Schnellenberger, who coached his final game at The Swamp in Will Muschamp’s first game in the 2011 season opener – Florida defeated Schnellenberger’s Florida Atlantic team 41-3 – he is credited with turning Louisville’s program from a Homecoming patsy into one with national credibility. Schnellenberger narrowly had a losing record (54-56-2) in 10 seasons (1985-94) at Louisville, but in 1990 he led the Cardinals to a 10-1-1 record and 34-7 Fiesta Bowl win over Alabama.
-- Did you know that when founded in 1798, Louisville was the first city-owned university in the U.S.? More than 20,000 students attend the school nowadays. “ABC World News”anchor Diane Sawyer is from Kentucky and her late father was a prominent politician in Louisville. She attended a semester of law school at the city's university before turning to journalism.
-- There are 19 players who have had their jerseys honored at Louisville, including former Broncos linebacker and longtime ESPN analyst Tom Jackson, former Bears linebacker Otis Wilson and former Redskins offensive lineman Joe Jacoby. However, only one player has had his jersey retired, and you probably have heard his name: Johnny Unitas. Before becoming a legend with the Baltimore Colts and an NFL Hall of Famer, Unitas starred at Louisville as No. 16.
-- While Unitas, a ninth-round pick by the Steelers in 1955, is far and away the most famous Cardinals QB to be drafted by the NFL, there are others: Browning Nagle (1991, second round), Brian Brohm (2008, second round), Chris Redman (2000, third round), Dave Ragone (2003, second round), Stefan LeFors (2005, fourth round), Dean May (1984, fifth round), Wally Oyler (1969, sixth round) and John Madeya (1973, 14th round).
-- In regard to Louisville quarterbacks, the Cardinals have a pretty good one currently in sophomore Teddy Bridgewater, who was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Bridgewater was one of the most recruited quarterbacks in the nation coming out of Miami Northwestern High and he became the first Cardinals true freshman to start at quarterback since Stu Stram in 1976. In case you are wondering, yes, Stu Stram is the son of late NFL coach Hank Stram.
-- Louisville enters the Sugar Bowl ranked No. 21. The highest finish ever for the Cardinals is a No. 6 ranking in the final AP Top 25 poll in 2006.
-- The most successful coach in Louisville history was back in the news Monday when he was hired as head coach at Western Kentucky. In his four seasons at Louisville, Bobby Petrino went 41-9, his .820 winning percentage the best in school history.
-- This is Louisville’s third consecutive bowl trip since Strong took over the program. Prior to his arrival, the Cardinals had not played in a bowl game since the 2006 season. The Cardinals are 8-8 all-time in bowl games and 1-1 under Strong. Louisville beat Southern Mississippi 31-28 in the 2010 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl that pitted Strong against another former UF assistant, former Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora. In Strong’s second season, the Cardinals lost to N.C. State in the 2011 Belk Bowl.
-- Gators coach Will Muschamp isn't the only coach in the Sugar Bowl who knows how to crowd surf. You may remember that after Florida's 14-6 win over LSU this season, Muschamp jumped off a stand onto the top of players to celebrate. Strong did the same after a late-season win at West Virginia in 2011. Here is a link to the video.