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Cardinals Win the Sugar Bowl. What Could it Mean for the Future?

The old adage goes, "That's why they play the game."In Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl, the Louisville Cardinals played a Florida Gators team that most sports analyst agreedwas too talented and too fast for this game to be competitive.To a non-partisan observer, it wasn't a competitive game — but not the way the analysts thought it'd be. The Cardinals beat the Gators 33-23, and the final score makes the game seem closer than reality. Louisville scored about as early and dramatically as possible with an interception and touchdown in the first few seconds of the game. And they kept scoring.There was confetti. A trophy hoisted. Universal praise sung for Cardinals Coach Charlie Strong and his star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. But what does this game mean for UofL?WDRB's Rick Bozich predicts that this Sugar Bowl victory will serve as a starting point for even bigger and better opportunities. Maybe even the biggest opportunities. U of L will be considered a national championship contender next season. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be on the Heisman Trophy short list. Charlie Strong has positioned himself with the Who's Who of college football coaches. The Atlantic Coast Conference might see what can be done to get U of L into its new league as quickly as possible. A recruiting windfall seems inevitable. There is probably more. But that's a good start.Tim Sullivan, a columnist at The Courier-Journal, was less bold in predicting what's next for the Cardinals, though he notes that the win certainly widens UofL's horizons. What the victory meant for the U of L program in terms of the final polls, 2013 poll position or Bridgewater’s forthcoming Heisman Trophy campaign remains to be seen, but there are bound to be some residual benefits from beating an elite SEC team on a big stage in the last game of the season.Here's the deal. In the past couple decades, the Cardinals have fielded winning — and often entertaining — teams that have routinely been handed a criticism that goes something like this: "Who have they played?"College football has so many teams (more than 120) and a dizzying degree of quality from the top to the bottom. The only way to know who's best is to play the games. WDRB's Eric Crawford called Wednesday night's game the Cardinals' "Biggest. Win. Ever." Crawford alsotook issue with the only plausible argument against Bozich's argument that Louisville has arrived as a serious national contender:  The narrative already has begun after the University of Louisville's 33-23 victory over Florida in the AllState Sugar Bowl Wednesday night. Florida didn't prepare. The Gators were bored. They weren't interested. Florida didn't show up. Let's get the story straight. Florida showed up. And Florida got beat. U of L scored more points in one half of football (plus eight seconds) than any team has scored on the Gators all season.But Pat Dooley of the Gainsville Sunwrote: "I’ve never been a big believer that the winning team wanted it more than the losing team. But it sure looked that way Wednesday night."Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples agreed that UofL's step onto the national stage won't require an immediate exit. But he also has a warning for Strong: He can't let the Cardinals become complacent. Like West Virginia last year, they'll get hyped mercilessly during the offseason. Bridgewater will grace many magazine covers in August. Louisville players will have to learn to handle success. The good news? Unlike West Virginia, the Cardinals won't follow their coming-out party by playing a Big 12 schedule. They'll play in the Big East for one more season. The wins should come easily there, and the league still has one more automatic spot in the BCS before the system gets euthanized. But to prove they are bound for bigger things, the Cardinals will have to keep playing the way they did Wednesday.Louisville showed up to the Sugar Bowl in more ways than play. The Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi noted that the crowd in New Orleans' Superdome was awfully red. It seems the Gators took a cue from their fans in this game and failed to show up. The crowd of 54,178 was the smallest at the Sugar Bowl since 1939. Because Louisville fans so badly outnumbered UF fans during bowl week, the locals began referring to their city as "Lou-Orleans."And ESPN showed plenty of shots of rabid Louisville fans through the game, compared to the blue and orange-clad Gators fans, their faces growing increasingly forlorn as the game clock ticked.Could the Sugar Bowl win help UofL with recruiting? Getting a higher pre-season ranking for next season, which could position them for a national title run regardless of who they play (as long as they win, obviously)? Could Bridgewater become the Cardinals' first Heisman winner?Those questions can't be answered until next year. That's why  they play the games.All Cardinals fans can do now is celebrate. UofL is encouraging those fans to greet the team at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium as the arrive back in Louisville. Here's a final thought from ESPN's Edward Aschoff, who dwelt on Strong's decision to stay at Louisville instead oftaking the ostensibly higher-profile job at Tennessee: Strong knew he could build a real winner at Louisville and he proved it Wednesday. A team that failed to deliver any sort of real punches all year smacked one of the toughest teams in the country square in the jaw and just kept landing haymakers.

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.