MIAMI HURRICANES BREAKDOWN Miami was the preseason favorite to win the ACC's Coastal Division. A late-season loss at Duke ruined those plans, and in some respects that makes this a down year for the Hurricanes. But there were plenty of positive developments in Al Golden’s third season, and with the cloud of an NCAA investigation finally lifted, better things could be on the horizon.
Freshman receiver Stacy Coley shows electrifying potential for Miami.
There was the upset of in-state rival Florida in Week 2, a triumph that lost some of its punch as the Gators struggled, but one that nonetheless was huge for the program. There was also the 7-0 start that helped set up a showdown and atmosphere in Tallahassee that rivaled some of Miami and Florida State's past get-togethers.
A rough second half versus Florida State doomed the Canes on Nov. 2, and that defeat was followed by losses to Virginia Tech and Duke, ending their hopes of getting to the ACC title game. (Losing running back Duke Johnson for the season with a broken ankle in the FSU loss did not help matters, either.) But the defense stepped up in a victory over Virginia, and a 41-point outburst at Pitt on Black Friday was a nice way to end the regular season, giving Miami its first nine-win season since 2009 and a chance to get to 10 wins with a win in this bowl game.
One person worth watching the next time the Canes take the field? Freshman Stacy Coley, who has scored touchdowns on a kickoff return, a punt return, a rush and a reception in his first season. He has 30 receptions for 559 yards as a receiver. -- Matt Fortuna
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS BREAKDOWN The season began with such high hopes for the Cardinals. They returned a veteran team that beat Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in January and had Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater back to lead the way.
If not for one tough loss, Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville would likely be playing for a much bigger prize.
A clear path presented itself, with one of the easiest schedules in the country. But a national championship run was not meant to be. Facing upstart UCF at home in October, a game that represented the Cardinals’ biggest challenge to date, they slipped. Louisville built a 28-7 third-quarter lead and seemed in control.
But the defense, much-improved this season, allowed UCF back into the game with blown assignments and missed tackles. Louisville reclaimed a 35-31 lead with three minutes to play on Dominique Brown's 15-yard rushing TD. But the Knights marched right down the field and won with 23 seconds left when Blake Bortles hit Jeff Godfrey for the game-winning touchdown.
Louisville players were crushed, and their hopes for a national championship run and back-to-back BCS appearances were dashed. There would be no outright conference championship to celebrate. That loss ended up eliminating Bridgewater from serious Heisman Trophy contention.
Despite the bitter disappointment, Louisville won the rest of its games, including a thrilling overtime victory over rival Cincinnati to end the regular season. The Bearcats have won 11 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. Coach Charlie Strong is 22-3 since the start of 2012 and seems to have the program in good shape as it prepares to play its final game in the American Athletic Conference before moving to the ACC next season.
Though Bridgewater has been playing outside the national spotlight since the UCF loss, he had another exceptional season, throwing for 3,523 yards and hitting career marks with a 70.2 completion percentage, 28 touchdown passes and a career-low four interceptions.
On defense, Marcus Smith led the nation with 12.5 sacks and teammate Lorenzo Mauldin had 9.5, making them the top sack duo in the nation. The UCF performance was uncharacteristic of the way the D played all season, as it ended up ranked in the top 10 in every major defensive category. But then again, Louisville did not play a better team all season. -- Andrea Adelson