After positioning itself as part of the College Football Playoff discussion, Louisville struggled to close the 2016 regular season. The Cardinals, which were ranked among the nation's top five prior to their final two outings, lost to both Houston and Kentucky, and finished No. 15 in the final regular season rankings.
Instead of competing for one of the top four post-season spots, the two unexpected defeats placed U of L (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl against No. 19 LSU (7-4).
The opportunity rid themselves of a two-game losing streak against a traditional power program has served as motivation for the Cardinals as they prep to face the Tigers on New Year's Eve.
"There's a lot of motivation, especially with it being LSU," U of L senior linebacker Keith Kelsey said on Monday afternoon. "We're facing a great team, so it's going to be very exciting."
Always preparing with a determined mentality has been a focus for this Louisville team all season long. The two-game skid to close the season has amped up the team's desire to finish the season with a victory.
"I think we're always hungry, but we definitely have a bitter taste in our mouth after two losses," said senior tight end Cole Hikutini. "We're definitely going to come out fired up."
The approach to the game remains the same. The players continue with the similar routine that they have all season long. The expectations at practice, in the weight room and elsewhere have stayed constant for the team in its post-season preparations.
"We prepare the same way and go out the same way," Hikutini said. "Before the loss you don't expect to lose. You game plan to win every time, so that's how we always attack a game plan."
The Citrus Bowl marks U of L's 21st post-season appearance, with the Cardinals holding a 10-9-1 overall record in those games. Louisville has won five of its last seven appearances, including a pair of BCS bowl victories.