The Florida Gators are expected to take on Big East Champion Louisville in the All State Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana January 2, 2013. As many fans may be aware, Louisville has some strong Florida connections.
Of course, the most obvious connection is head coach Charley Strong. Strong came to Louisville from the Gators. He was the defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer and Ron Zook, with Meyer retaining him when he took over the program. He had three other prior stints with the Gators starting as a graduate assistant in 1983-84, then again in 1988-89 and again under Steve Spurrier from 1991-1994.
Strong had long been considered one of the top assistants in the nation when Louisville plucked him out of Gainesville. Since he has taken over the Cardinal program, he has done well to upgrade the recruiting, play on the field, and fan support. The Cardinals started the season 9-0 before losing two straight and finishing 10-2 the best season at Louisville since going 12-1 in 2006. Support has certainly grown for the program since Strong took over and he just signed a contract extension which includes upgrades to facilities which will make it easier to recruit top level talent to Louisville.
Running backs coach Kenny Carter, was an assistant at Florida under Urban Meyer from 2008-20089. In his first season, he coached Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey as freshman to over 1200 yards, the team led the SEC in rushing with over 231 yards per game, and the Gators won the BCS Championship game. He spent two seasons there before leaving for Louisville.
Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford came to Louisville with Coach Strong when he took over the program. At Florida, Bedford was the corner backs coach for two seasons in 2008-2009. In 2008 he coached up a young secondary that had finished 98 in total defense and 101st in pass efficiency the year before into one of the top secondary’s in the nation. That season the Gators finished third in the nation in pass efficiency and 20th in total defense. The secondary finished first in the country in interceptions with 26 returning five for td’s. At Florida he helped Joe Haden become an All-American at corner, a position he hadn’t played until arriving in Gainesville.
There are also three former Gator players on the Louisville roster wide receiver Robert Clark, tight end Gerald Christian, and cornerback Adrian Bushell. Clark and Christian who played together at Dwyer high school in Palm Beach, Florida, both chose to leave in the middle of last season, Will Muschamp’s first, expressing desire to see more playing time. Both sat out this season and will be redshirt juniors next year with two seasons of eligibility left.
Bushell left in 2010 after a troubled couple of years in Gainesville following Strong to Louisville from Florida. As a senior this season he has helped lead a young secondary that has played decently but certainly has room for improvement. Bushell is fourth on the team in tackles with 59 with 1 interception, 11 pass break ups, and 3 forced fumbles. He has really shown value on special teams where he has two blocked kicks in his career and a 100 yard kick return, twice being named Big East Special Teams player of the week.
While college football fans in general may not be overly fired up over the match-up of Louisville versus Florida, it does make for some nice story lines and players on both sides might have reasons to be excited beyond the normal desire to win the bowl game.