After a three year absence, Louisville is back in bowl business. Charlie Strong, who guided Louisville to a 6-6 record in his first season, will lead the Cardinals to their first bowl appearance since winning the Orange Bowl four years ago. The Cardinals will play Southern Mississippi Dec. 21 in the Beef O Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla. An unexpected bid, Strong exceeded preseason expectations after UofL was picked to finish last in the Big East. A successful first season, Louisville beat two bowl-bound foes, including Big East BCS representative Connecticut 26-0. There's no doubt Strong has the Cards headed in the right direction.
One of the major benefits of returning to a bowl game is the additional practice time Strong will have with his team. That's especially important because Louisville played about 35 freshmen or sophomore this season and added practice time during bowl preparation will only help those young stars improve. With extra practice time in December, which in effect is like having another spring practice, Louisville's young players will be able to continue their development on the football field while learning from Charlie Strong's able coaching staff. That extra work should pay dividends on the field for the Cardinals next season.
It is a huge deal that Charlie Strong has guided Louisville back to a bowl in his first season because it provides clear, irrefutable proof for recruits and their parents that he has the Cardinals headed in the right direction. Armed with that sort of proof, Strong should be able to convince a few highly-touted prospects to play for Louisville late in the recruiting process. The fact that Louisville will play its bowl game in Florida provides an added boost, especially considering many of the Cardinals top remaining targets hail from the Sunshine state.
Regardless of the the outcome against Southern Miss, Louisville will take positive momentum into the off-season for the first time in three years. A bowl bid is a solid accomplishment for the Cardinals, one that should boost the program's confidence and morale. If Louisville can win against USM, it would be the first time since 2007 that the Cardinals finished the season off with a victory. That would be another sign of progress under Strong.