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December 12, 2011As Louisville's football team prepares for its Belk Bowl game against North Carolina State (7-5) on Dec. 27 in Charlotte, bowl president Will Webb called the Cardinals "the best 7-5 team in the country."
"Well, right toward the end I think we were playing better than a lot of teams in the country," UofL coach Charlie Strong said. "We stumbled because of our ownselves, but each game we got better and better as the season went along."
During a Monday press conference, Strong played the no-respect card, perhaps hinting at some of his motivational tactics for the bowl game. He could also point out that UofL (7-5) has never won back-to-back bowl games in consecutive years.
"I'll come up with something," Strong said. "I don't know yet, but it will be something."
It appears he already has. Pointing to what he considered some snubs on the Big East all-conference teams, Strong claimed UofL isn't getting enough respect in the league. So maybe a win over the Wolf Pack, which would give the Cards six victories in their last seven games and position them for a big 2012 season, would be another step toward earning that respect.
Only three UofL players were chosen first- or second-team all-conference by the eight coaches, even though the Cardinals tied for the title.
UofL's representatives were cornerback Adrian Bushell and safety Hakeem Smith on the first team and linebacker Dexter Heyman, who led the Cards in tackles, on the second team. The Cards didn't have any offensive players on either team, but freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was named Rookie of the Year.
Strong was particularly perturbed that Heyman didn't make the first team.
"I thought Heyman had an outstanding year," Strong said. "To me, he was the best defensive player in the conference this season. But we still don't have the respect around this league. Some teams not even in a bowl game had more players selected than us. I guess all the voters are in the Northeast."
BELK'S WEBB PRAISES UofL
Webb said the bowl chose the Cardinals with their first pick among the Big East's bowl tie-ins after West Virginia earned the league's automatic BCS bid to the Orange Bowl.
"There were a number of things that attracted us about Louisville," he said. "Number one, the history they've got with fan support, both here and at bowl games, and number two the way they turned the season around. "Six weeks ago everybody was waiting for basketball season here. All of a sudden. . .If they were starting their season now playing the way they are, where would they be, 9-3, 12-2? I don't know, but they're playing very good football and as a bowl director you're always looking for who can be exciting, who's finished the season strong."
Webb said that over 50,000 tickets had sold to the game and noted that "some of the best seats in the house" are still available at UofLsports.com. He said UofL still has some of its original allotment of 12,500, that N.C. State has sold over 18,000 and that bowl officials are hoping for a crowd in excess of 60,000 in Bank of America Stadium, which seat nearly 74,000.
BRIDGEWATER GETS ANOTHER HONOR
Bridgewater added another post-season honor Monday when he was named a freshman All-American by YahooSports.com. Last week he also got the same honor from CBSSports.com.
The first true freshman to start at quarterback for UofL since Stu Stram in 1976, the Miami native threw for 1,855 yards and 12 touchdowns, breaking Chris Redman's freshman passing yardage record. Bridgewater completed 66 percent of his throws.
"Teddy got better because our whole offense got better," Strong said. "As Teddy developed, our offense developed also."