Conventional thinking put the 18th ranked University of Louisville Cardinals (10-2) in the Orange Bowl. At the beginning of the season when pundits lauded the talent the Cards had in coach Charlie Strong’s crew, they mentioned the eventual destination should be the Orange Bowl on New Year’s night.
That changed this weekend thanks to Northern Illinois (12-1) and its growing stature in the national stage. The Mid-America Conference champion rose to the top 16 in the BCS at which point meant that by rule they earned a spot in a Bowl Championship Series game because they’re ranked ahead of the Big Ten champion, Wisconsin, and the Big East champ, Louisville.
Officials from the Orange Bowl decided they wanted the Huskies to come to Miami to play. Will they do well? Perhaps, but they lost their head coach Dave Doeren to North Carolina. They earned their way in under Doeren and perhaps a month to prepare for the game will put the distraction of not having him on the sidelines behind them.
That doesn’t leave Louisville out, though. The way the current configuration shakes out, the top 2 teams in the nation play for the championship. The other BCS bowls go as follows (as long as their conference champion isn’t in the BCS title game):
Rose Bowl: Big Ten champion vs. PAC 10 champion
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 champion
Orange Bowl: ACC champion
Sugar Bowl: SEC champion
The Big East doesn’t have a bowl to call its own, but its champion is guaranteed a spot in one of the big games.
This year, Louisville heads to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl on January 2nd to take on Charlie Strong’s old team, #4 Florida. With the SEC champion, Alabama, in the BCS championship game, the SEC runner up takes the slot. Could there be a deeper reason it goes this way? Is it better promo copy, and theoretically more eyeballs on the screens, to have the subtext of the game being “little brother stands up to big brother?”
Interesting scenarios could have happened in the Orange Bowl, too. The game is played in Miami and how many South Florida kids are on the Louisville sideline? Heck, Teddy Bridgewater, the quarterback with the most guts in college football, is from the Miami area.
Needless to say, Cardinal fans are ecstatic either way. To go from the Steve Kragthrope era to a chance at greatness is nothing short of incredible for Strong and company. And they don’t have to unpack what they put together for an Orange Bowl trip. New Orleans is quite warm this time of year.
Photo: Louisville.com/Max Sharp