Cincinnati controls Louisville's bowl fate

Louisville's bowl fate rests with Cincinnati. If the Bearcats fall to UConn this Saturday, the Cardinals, who earned at least a share of the Big East title with a 34-24 win over USF Friday, will receive the league's automatic BCS bid.

Louisville's bowl fate rests with Cincinnati.

If the Bearcats fall to UConn this Saturday, the Cardinals, who earned at least a share of the Big East title with a 34-24 win over USF Friday, will receive the league's automatic BCS bid.

If Cincinnati wins, Louisville will be headed for one of the Big East's other bowl tie-ins, perhaps in Florida, North Carolina or Alabama.

Charlie Strong said he didn't watch Cincinnati's win over Syracuse on Saturday – he was out blowing leaves. But there's no question Louisville fans and players – and probably coaches, too, will be glued to the action Saturday when Cincinnati and UConn square off in the regular-season finale.

"I don't know if I'll watch because there's nothing we can do," Strong said Monday. "I told our guys don't ever let somebody else control your destiny. We're in the position we're in because of what we did. Cincinnati is where they are because they were able to win and do the right things. We put ourselves in this position and we've learned a good lesson."

It's remarkable Louisville still has a shot to play in a BCS bowl game after starting the season 2-4 with losses at home against Florida International and Marshall. But Strong's young players, including Big East Offensive Player of the Week Teddy Bridgewater, grew up quickly, closing the season with five wins in their final six games.

Big East Bowls
BCS – Jan. 2-4
Champs Sports (Orlando, Fla.) – Dec. 29 vs. ACC
Belk (Charlotte, NC.) – Dec. 27 vs. ACC
New Era Pinstripe (New York, NY) – Dec. 30 vs. Big 12
BBVA Compass (Birmingham, AL) – Jan. 7 vs. SEC
Beef O'Brady's (St. Petersburgh, Fla.) – Dec. 20 vs. C-USA

"This team has done a great job all year handling adversity," Strong said. "We started 2-4, then won five of six. It speaks volumes how these players developed and came along."

While Strong's staff hits the recruiting trail this week, the Louisville players will be concentrating on academics with finals approaching next week. Louisville will get 15 extra bowl practices and Strong said his team would likely practice Friday and Saturday.

"We've got to find out exactly where we're going to go," Strong said of Louisville's bowl preparation plans. "This week is all about academics. Then we'll probably practice at the end of this week. Most of our coaches are out recruiting. So we've got to get on top of recruiting right now."

"It's always good you get those extra practices. It carries over to the offseason. Now we can practice, play the bowl game, take some time off, then get ready for the offseason."

Strong expressed amazement at his team's turnaround this season. He said the turning point came during a meeting the day before Louisville's 16-14 win over Rutgers that snapped a three-game losing skid to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati in the wake of offensive coordinator Mike Sanford's dismissal. According to Strong, senior corner Anthony Conner, who broke his neck against the Scarlet Knights, was the first player to stand up during that meeting.

"I don't think any of us saw this coming," Strong said. "At 2-4, I wondered if we'd win another game. It's amazing the turnaround this team made. The seniors took the young guys in because they knew they couldn't win without them. Then the team just developed and grew."

Now? "We're looking at a team that has to lose a game for us to put a (BCS) cap on an outstanding season," Strong said.

Bridgewater's development also keyed Louisville's turnaround. The leading candidate for Big East Freshman of the Year honors, Bridgewater capped the season by leading Louisville's comeback against USF with 241 yards passing and three touchdowns. Bridgewater completed 19 of 28 passes against the Bulls with no turnovers.

"Teddy Bridgewater each week continues to get better and better," Strong said. "It's amazing how well he's progressed during the season. He doesn't make many mistakes. The young man is very poised. Offensively, we've gotten better and better and better."

Strong hopes to get several injured players back for Louisville's bowl game, including defensive linemen Greg Scruggs, B.J. Butler and Randy Salmon. Scruggs has been slowed with turf toe this season, while Salmon is out with mono. Butler has endured shoulder and knee issues his first two seasons at UofL.

"You'd like to see Scruggs come back, BJ Butler is another one, Randy Salmon," said Strong. "Now that we've gotten to a bowl game and they have some more rest maybe they can get better with their injuries. We would love to have those guys back."

In the meantime, Louisville will keep a close eye on Cincinnati this weekend. After starting out 2-4, Strong is just happy his program will have an opportunity to play in a bowl game – any bowl – for the second straight season.

"We'll just see what happens with the bowl preparation and exactly where we're going to fall," said Strong. "There's nothing to do now. We've done our part. We played well and put ourselves into position to get to a bowl game. The bowl picture is just icing on the cake for this program."

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