ORLANDO (AP) — Teddy Bridgewater’s likely foray into the NFL will be preceded by a matchup with his hometown team – also the one to which he originally committed.
It’s the precursor to a conference rivalry for Louisville.
Having missed out on a BCS bowl and the Heisman Trophy ceremony, Bridgewater could end his college career with a win over Miami at the Russell Athletic Bowl in the 18th-ranked Cardinals’ final game before joining the Hurricanes in the ACC.
This matchup Saturday night in Orlando takes place a few hours north of where Bridgewater became a high schoolstar and a little more than four months before he could become the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
He’s at least expected to go in the top 10, assuming he leaves Louisville (11-1) as anticipated after a junior year which began with Heisman expectations but failed to see him get a finalist invite to New York. His chances in that race first took a hit Oct. 18 when the Cardinals suffered their only loss, 38-35 to a Central Florida team which would claim the American Athletic Conference’s BCS bid.
His Heisman hopes further tumbled in the final four games, not recording one 300-yard passing day while totaling just five touchdown passes.
Bridgewater still finished as the nation’s fifth-highest rated passer, throwing for 3,523 yards with 28 TDs and four interceptions, but couldn’t get back to a BCS bowl after leading the Cardinals over Florida in last season’s Sugar.
“This is a very talented young man. He has great command on the offense,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “… He has speed, good corps of receivers, knows how to distribute the football, doesn’t make many mistakes with the football, can move in the pocket. It’s going to be a great challenge for our corners and safeties.”
Bridgewater now looks to spoil the return from a self-imposed two-year bowl ban by a school he nearly attended. The Hurricanes had a verbal commitment from the Miami native in the summer of 2010, but coach Randy Shannon was fired after a 7-6 season, and Bridgewater headed to Louisville instead.
With Bridgewater among 23 Miami-area natives playing for the Cardinals, senior defensive end Marcus Smith said they were particularly excited by the news of going to Florida to face the Hurricanes (9-3).
“When they found out, it was like ‘We’re playing back at home again, we’re playing basically our teammates and the people that they play in high school,'” said Smith, a Georgia native who is the AAC defensive player of the year. “Feeling that with them is gonna be a great one.”
Not long after the news Bridgewater ditched the program, Miami implemented the bowl ban due to improper benefits from a booster, so this game is the team’s first in the postseason since 2010. Former assistant Clint Hurtt was implicated in the scandal and is now on Louisville’s staff.
The Hurricanes will look to post their first double-digit victory total since 2003.
“Our kids are excited, I think they’re grateful,” Golden said. “They’ve been through a lot the past two years, and they have not been able to have this opportunity.
“… They’re practicing with a purpose, they’re excited, and clearly they have a really tough opponent coming up.”
Among the most excited is quarterback Stephen Morris, another Miami native who threw for 2,868 yards and 21 TDs. Even before this matchup was announced, Morris was intrigued by the possibility of squaring off with Bridgewater.
“It’d be a great challenge and a great headline for a lot of people,” Morris said. “Teddy’s a great quarterback. …. A lot of people would focus on that, two quarterbacks from Miami going at it.”
These teams will be going at it a lot. Louisville is leaving the AAC to replace Maryland in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Miami is in the Coastal but will play the Cardinals next season.
“When we go play in the ACC next year, I think (the bowl) will put our stamp on this season, and it will tell the world that we can play with teams in the ACC and we can play with anybody,” Smith said.
Smith finished second nationally with 12 1/2 sacks for a Louisville defense which ranked second in the FBS overall (257.9 yards per game) and against the run (86.3).
Poor defense derailed the Hurricanes’ season. They were 7-0 before losing three straight, including Nov. 2 to top-ranked Florida State, while allowing more than 40 points and 500 total yards in each.
The offense took a big blow against the Seminoles with top rusher Duke Johnson suffering a season-ending broken ankle, a possible reason the Hurricanes are converting an ACC-worst 32.8 percent of third downs since the start of November. Louisville’s defense holds opponents to 28.6 percent, second-best in the country.
Miami leads this all-time series 9-1-1, though the Cardinals’ lone victory came in the most recent meeting – 31-7 in 2006.
“Two powerhouse programs going at it,” Cardinals wideout Eli Rogers said, “that’s always a good game to watch.”
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