"Traditionally we have a long way to go to be with them," said U of L head coach Bobby Petrino. "But that's what we're trying to build and work towards. When we started the season this year it was talking about taking the next step and winning the Big East Conference and getting to a BCS Bowl game. I feel like this is a step towards next season, and that's the importance of this game and winning this game is finishing for the seniors but then beginning our next step in what our goals will be next season."
The Cardinals, which faced Virginia Tech in last season's Gator Bowl, are facing Wake Forest, the champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, for the first time in the program's history.
"When you watch them on video and you watch them play, they don't make mistakes," Petrino said. "They just do things right. They play the game right. They're very well coached. They understand what's coming. You can tell that they have a lot of experience, a lot of students of the game."
Much has been mentioned about the 23 Florida natives, including senior linebacker Nate Harris, who leads the team in tackles, that help make up the Louisville's roster and their importance to the continued strength of the Cardinal football program. Continued recruiting success in the Sunshine State is vital for U of L to sustain it's current status, however the cornerstone has been and will remain in Petrino's ability to keep the top high school prospects in the city of Louisville to remain home.
"It was something that when we got the job, I think it was one of our main goals was to keep the best players from the city of Louisville at the University of Louisville, and it was a priority to all our recruiting," said Petrino. "I also felt like it would be a great advantage to our fan base and being able to pack the stadium, get the sell-outs that we do have now. When you look at Michael Bush and Brian Brohm and Mario Urrutia, Earl Heyman, Aundre Henderson, the young guy you're going to see here in the next few years that we feel that fit into that category, they've been the main guys on our team, and I think it's been a big, big part of also building a tradition with our fan base."
Bush and Brohm are both projected to be high NFL Draft selections - rumors are abound on who may be staying or going - are their success, along with other recent Cardinal standouts such Jason Spitz, Kerry Rhodes, last season's Nagurski Award winner Elvis Dumervil and others, in the professional ranks is yet another key to U of L's strengthening tradition.
"I think it helps because everybody - at least everybody that we want to recruit I think needs to have a dream to play in the NFL and a drive to do that, just because of the amount of time and dedication it takes to be a great college football player," said Petrino. "We also want to recruit guys that have the skill and the determination to get their degree, but certainly they look at who's being drafted, where they're being drafted from, what type of success they've had out there."
"We've got guys like Elvis Dumervil, who has had a great rookie year, and Kerry Rhodes, and we'll try to use everything we can to help us in recruiting," he continued. "They certainly know what's going on, and they spend a lot of time on that internet so they're aware of all the players."
One of changes that will occur during the off-season at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium will be the addition of the 2007 Gator Bowl to the façade. With no end of the current bowl streak for U of L the expansion, and seemingly final piece to the national title dream that began with former coach Howard Schnellenberger in 1985 is the expansion to the stadium that is less than a decade old. Among the many activities held in the Miami area was U of L's stadium expansion event, which included an appearance by Muhammad Ali, on New Year's Eve.
"It's just something that I think Louisville has been building for," said Petrino." I told the people at the event last night, congratulations on going to the Orange Bowl because you're the people that made it happen. I'm just glad that I've been on for the ride for the last four years because it's taken a tremendous amount of effort from a lot of people that people aren't even aware of, guys that went out and raised the money, guys that kept football going. Howard was there and certainly he played a big part in it."
The cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale have been flooded by red and black clad Cardinal fans over the past few days, something that has Petrino hoping for a home field feel at Dolphin Stadium on Tuesday night.
"I think everybody is enjoying that we're in the Orange Bowl, and we'll have a tremendous crowd there," Petrino said. "I'm hoping they can make it just like it's a home game."
Fox Sports coverage of the Cardinals and Demon Deacons and the 73rd Orange Bowl Tuesday night will begin at 8:00 p.m.