Sugar Bowl Forecast
By Phil Steele
I hope everyone had a very happy New Year! Let’s keep the bowl season rolling along with tonight’s Sugar Bowl which pits Louisville against Florida. Each day there is a bowl I will have a breakdown of the game here on my blog. But if you can’t wait for the actual writeup, make sure you download my FREE Bowl Guide which gives you a glimpse of each game being played this bowl season. The Bowl Guide includes Stat Leaders, Past Meetings, Bowl Records, Game By Game Stats and Previous Bowl Game Results. Everything you need for this post season at your fingertips! Here is the forecast for today’s bowl. Make sure you check back on Thursday for the Fiesta Bowl forecast and download that Bowl Guide today!
8:30 pm • ESPN • Superdome • New Orleans, LA
The Cardinals return to a BCS bowl game for the 1st time since ‘06 (Orange Bowl) after knocking off Rutgers by 3 in the season finale for the automatic bid. HC Charlie Strong has now led UL to a bowl appearance in each of his 3 seasons (1-1). UF makes its 22nd consecutive bowl (2nd longest in nation) and the Gators are on a current 6-1 run in bowl games. While this is just Muschamp’s 2nd bowl (1-0) he has served as the DC on many teams who played in BCS games.
The Cardinals have my #53 ranked offense this year avg 31 ppg and 426 ypg led by soph QB Bridgewater, who saw his numbers significantly increase from last year. Despite suffering a knee injury in the 11th game against Conn, Bridgewater was able to play well in the Cardinals come-from-behind win over Rutgers in the season finale. UL has been using the RB rotation of Wright and Perry and each has eclipsed 700 yards rushing. However, Perry was lost to an ACL injury at the end of the regular season and will miss here so rFr Lamb will spell Wright in the bowl. WR Parker continues to be UL’s big play threat as of his 38 catches, 9 have been td’s. The OL avg 6’4” 310 and is led by 3x All-Big East C Mario Benavides. On the year this unit paved the way for 127 ypg (3.6) while allowing 26 sacks (6.1%). The D has my #51 ranking allowing 24 ppg and 345 ypg. The DL avg 6’4” 280 and allowed 151 ypg (4.3) on the ground while recording 15.5 of the team’s 19 sacks (82%). Brown (leading tackler) leads the injury-plagued LB unit that has seen 9 lost starts due to injury among the 3 spots. S’s Pryor and Hakeem Smith finished #2 and #3 on the team in tackles as the Cardinals have my #63 pass eff D rating allowing 194 ypg (58%, 21-9) on the season. UL has my #80 ST’s unit that is led by the steady FG kicking of rFr Wallace (14-17).
Coming into the season UF fans had many concerns about the hiring of Muschamp who finished just 7-6 his 1st year but he squashed those doubts after an 11-1 season which included 3 wins over Top 10 teams. Into 2012, there was a QB controversy between Driskel and Brissett but Muschamp and OC Pease made the right call going to the more mobile soph Driskel who has shown signs of living up to his lofty HS accolades (PS#1). For the most part Driskel has made good decisions (11-3 ratio) and he is the #2 rusher, but it should be noted that there was a 5 game stretch in the middle of the season where UF avg’d an abysmal 104 ypg through the air as they relied on their run game heavily. RB Gillislee is the big physical downhill runner Muschamp was looking for last year and he became the 1st UF back to top 1,000 yards since ‘04. With no legitimate threats at the WR position and having a young QB, it’s no surprise that TE Reed is the leading rec. The OL avg 6’4” 314 with 2 Sr starters and struggled with pass protection as they allowed a whopping 36 sacks (13.9%) but did pave way for 195 rush ypg (4.6) which was a solid improvement over last year’s 143 (4.0). Overall the Gators have my #55 offense. Much of the reason for UF’s success this year can attributed to their D and ST’s. The #2 D starts up front as despite losing AA candidate DE Powell prior to the season to injury, the Gators allowed just 97 rush ypg (3.1) thanks to some dominant interior DL play led by Floyd/Hunter who combined for 80 tackles and 15 tfl. The LB corps, which was expected to be a strength, dealt with injuries as Jenkins missed 3 games and will again miss here with a broken foot. Taking up the slack is a UF secondary which features 3 of their top 4 tacklers and is my #1 pass eff D with a superb 5-19 ratio. Just as good as UF’s secondary has been, the UF #15 ST’s unit features arguably the best K/P combo in the country. K Sturgis was a superb 23-27 including 8-9 from 40+ and is UF’s all-time FG leader while P Christy was #5 in the NCAA avg 46.1 with UF being #7 in net punt avg (40.7). The PR game avg’d 13.8 ypr (#12) but the KR were average at 20.6 ypr (#79). The coverage units were solid giving up 7.6 on PR and 18.5 on KR.
Coming into this year expectations were low for the Gators but thanks to a relentless D, an opportunistic offense and great ST’s play, Florida makes its 4th BCS appearance in 7 years. While both teams come from BCS conferences, there may be no bigger disparity than the competition Florida (#4 toughest schedule) faced this year compared to UL (#93). The Gators are the obvious choice to win the game here.
PHIL’S FORECAST: FLORIDA 30 LOUISVILLE 13
Phil Steele is a college football analyst who has been publishing his annual College Football Preview since 1995. His magazine is regarded as one of the best in the business.