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Florida earns bid to play Louisville in Sugar Bowl

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Posted: Monday, December 3, 2012 12:35 am

Florida’s berth in the Sugar Bowl was a foregone conclusion, but its opponent was a mystery.

On Sunday night, UF was officially selected to square off against Louisville on Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

“We’re honored to play in New Orleans,” coach Will Muschamp said. “Our guys are really jacked up. … Our guys were thrilled to have this opportunity, so they’ll be excited about this game.”

Oklahoma was projected to face Florida, but Northern Illinois stole Oklahoma’s BCS bid by defeating Kent State 44-37 in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game. The win vaulted the Huskies to No. 15 in the BCS standings. By rule, any team from a non-BCS conference that finishes in the top 16 of the BCS standings and ranks ahead of a champion from one of the big six conferences earns an automatic BCS bowl berth.

Oklahoma finished the season 10-2, but 11-1 Kansas State was selected to represent the Big 12 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Louisville — the Big East champion — is ranked No. 21 in the latest BCS standings.

Florida checked in at No. 3, moving up one spot after No. 2 Alabama defeated previous No. 3 Georgia 32-28 in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

After tabbing Florida, the Sugar Bowl was the second-to-last BCS bowl to select its second participant. The Sugar Bowl chose Louisville over Northern Illinois, which will face Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1.

Charlie Strong, who served as the Gators’ defensive coordinator from 2002-09, coaches the Cardinals. Muschamp met Strong during his time as the defensive coordinator at LSU.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for him and a guy that, in this profession, is one of the good guys,” Muschamp said. “He was an outstanding defensive coordinator and a good friend.”

Louisville clinched the Big East championship and secured an automatic BCS bowl berth by erasing a 14-3 halftime deficit to notch a 20-17 win against Rutgers on Thursday. The Cardinals are 10-2. Louisville won its first nine games before losing back-to-back games to Syracuse and Connecticut, which are a combined 12-12. UF opens as a 16.5-point favorite.

“This is a team that was one game away from playing for a national title,” Strong said of Florida. “We’re nowhere near that right now.”

Contact Greg Luca at gluca@alligator.org.

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