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Sugar Bowl Preview: Florida Looks for the Next-Best Thing Against Louisville

The Gators won't play for the national title, but they can finish up the 2012-13 season with a strong win. As long as they don't have to throw the ball


Allstate Sugar Bowl: Louisville Cardinals vs. Florida Gators, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

In the month or so that has gone by since Florida was last in the collective consciousness, it might have gotten easy to forget just how close the Gators came to playing for the first national title of the Will Muschamp Era -- or at least playing for the chance at that national title. Because they were extraordinarily close.

Remember, Jordan Reed was on the Georgia 5 with Florida trailing 17-9 late in the fourth quarter when he fumbled away the ball in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. That game remains the only loss on Florida's schedule this year, the tiebreaking victory for Georgia in the division standings -- a five-yard difference between going to Atlanta for a chance at Miami and simply waiting for New Orleans.

Is that a way to say that Florida won't be "motivated" tonight? That seems unlikely. Regardless of the circumstances, this is still the first BCS bowl for Florida in three years, and really the first season the Gators have proven to be nationally relevant since Tim Tebow incinerated another Big East team in that 2010 Sugar Bowl. This might not be the national championship game, but it's still a way for Muschamp and his players to show that the post-Tebow swoon is over.

At least when it comes to the results. For all the good that Muschamp has done and all the good that Brent Pease might do, this remains a dreadful offense. Again, more dreadful than you might remember. The Gators rank last in the SEC and 114th out of 120 FBS teams in passing yardage. (They're ahead of Georgia Tech, Temple, Navy, Air Force, New Mexico and Army.) That would be 118th out of 124 if the four reclassifying teams were added to the rankings. Things get slightly better when you look at passing efficiency -- Florida ranks 63rd in the nation -- but it's still only 10th in the SEC. The ground game is far better -- third in the conference.

But the defense is superb, and the strength that has taken Florida this far. The Gators rank in the Top 10 nationally in passing efficiency defense, scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense. Passing yardage defense falls right outside those rankings at 13th. Except for passing yardage defense, Florida ranks first or second in the SEC in all of those categories, usually finishing up behind some team named Alabama.

Louisville is almost the antithesis of Florida on offense. The passing game is the thing that keeps the Cardinals running, with the eighth most efficient passer in the country in Teddy Bridgewater and the most prolific air attack in the Big East. Louisville averages 298.6 yards per game in passing offense, which is only about 40 yards higher than Florida's average in total offense.

But the Cardinals running game is lacking, falling to 98th in the country after the loss of Senorise Perry. Louisville's ground game failed to generate 50 net yards in either of its final three games, which included a two-game losing streak that wiped out the chances of an undefeated season. The defense is middling, though it leads the Big East Conference in passing yardage -- something that will obviously not be a priority tonight.

Instead, the game tonight will likely come down to a contest to see if Louisville can stop Florida's running game and/or score against the defense. Neither of those is incredibly likely to happen often enough to get the win. Florida might not be able to claim a national title after this game, but the Sugar Bowl Trophy is a nice parting gift as the program looks for better days in 2013.

Florida 28, Louisville 13