Russell Athletic Bowl preview


Time to quickly preview the Russell Athletic Bowl (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN) between No. 18 Louisville (11-1) and Miami (9-3).

Who to watch: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater. The junior has a decision to make after the bowl game: return to school for another season or enter the NFL draft. If this ends up being his final collegiate game, that alone makes him the player to watch. Although Bridgewater fell out of Heisman contention when the Cardinals lost to UCF, he had another outstanding season. Bridgewater is completing 70.2 percent of his passes this season, the highest percentage of any qualified AQ quarterback, with 3,523 yards, 28 touchdown passes and four interceptions. He also ranks No. 3 in the nation in Total QBR. On paper, Louisville has a clear advantage with Bridgewater and his talented receivers against an underachieving Miami defense that ranks No. 71 in the nation in average passing yards allowed. But one of the areas where Miami has done well is forcing interceptions. The Hurricanes have 18 on the season and have five defensive scores.

What to watch: Miami's run game. The Canes have not been nearly as effective running the ball with Duke Johnson out of the lineup. Before he got hurt against Florida State, Johnson ranked in the top two in the ACC in rushes per game (18.1), rushing yards (920) and 10-yard rushes (28). Without him, Miami is averaging 82.5 fewer rushing yards per game on designed runs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Louisville ranks No. 2 in the nation in rush defense and has allowed just one 100-yard rusher all season. The Cardinals are 20-2 under Charlie Strong when holding the opposition to 100 or fewer yards on the ground. Miami needs to have balance to win. Stephen Morris has been inconsistent this year and might not be able to rely solely on the deep ball. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Louisville’s opponents have one touchdown and 13 interceptions on throws 15 yards or longer.

Why to watch: This is one of the best matchups outside the BCS bowls. Not only is Bridgewater a player to watch for his on-field talent but he also nearly played at Miami. He gave an early commitment to the Hurricanes but changed his mind after Miami fired coach Randy Shannon in 2010. Bridgewater is one of 22 players from the South Florida area on the Louisville roster, so you figure there might be some extra motivation headed into this game. Perhaps more important, this game has some early ACC implications. Strong will get a good gauge for where his program stands headed into Year 1 in the ACC in 2014. Louisville is scheduled to host Miami next season.


AA picks: Louisville 35, Miami 24

HD picks: Louisville 35, Miami 28