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Louisville QB Bridgewater expects to be better, lead No. 9 Cardinals to a BCS bowl game

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater views last year's breakout performance as just a glimpse of his potential.

That's trouble for opponents.

The junior completed 68.5% of his passes for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. He led the Cardinals to an 11-2 mark and a stunning Sugar Bowl upset of Florida in January. Still, Bridgewater believes there's room for improvement with many of his receivers back and that BCS victory providing a baseline to build on.

The possibility of what's next might is why there are high expectations for Bridgewater and the ninth-ranked Cardinals entering Sunday's season opener against Ohio. Louisville has the chance to enter the BCS title picture, and its quarterback has been mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate.

Bridgewater hasn't thought about striking a Heisman pose on stage in New York and seems slightly embarrassed by the consideration for numerous national awards. On the other hand, the Miami native came to Louisville hoping to make a mark.

"Growing up, I always told myself that I wanted to go somewhere where I had the chance of being known nationally," Bridgewater said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"I told myself that wherever I went I wanted to leave a legacy as the best in school history, so I kind of dreamed it. Once I got here, the guys around me made it all a reality. I'm just thankful to be a part of this team because it's a bunch of great guys who love ball."

Bridgewater's gratitude was obvious by the multitude of players he involved in Louisville's strategy last season, completing passes to 10 players in three games. He returns with a similar agenda of inclusion, no doubt due to having DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers and tight end Ryan Hubble (and others) to throw to.

Despite the quarterback's ability to work everybody in, Bridgewater still found flaws to correct such as going to his left and disguising his intentions better. Fall camp seems to have addressed those issues, and coaches have raved about his quicker delivery, progressions and improved accuracy.

Sounds like a player ready to pick up where he left off.

"He's on task and his efficiency is off the charts right now," Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said of Bridgewater. "He's literally a coach on the field, he's been remarkable. As we get ready for Ohio, he's playing his best football right now."

Bridgewater's ability to remain efficient could determine where he is in December and whether Louisville's season will end in January. Not that he or the Cardinals are thinking that far ahead.

"Knowing what we want to accomplish and who we are, that pretty much keeps everyone level-headed," Bridgewater said.

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Here are five things to watch Sunday between Ohio and No. 9 Louisville:

PERRY AND CO.: Louisville coach Charlie Strong has said that Senorise Perry would start at running back, completing the senior's remarkable nine-month recovery from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. But the Cardinals' second-leading rusher in 2012 will split carries with Dominique Brown, former Auburn back Michael Dyer and sophomore Corvin Lamb. The goal is establishing a primary back, but Louisville has benefited from having multiple choices.

B.B. AND T.T.: Ohio's offensive tandem of senior running back Beau Blankenship and senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton gives Louisville's defense something to think about. Blankenship rushed for a school-record 1,604 yards and 15 touchdowns last season while Tettleton completed 62% of his passes for 2,844 yards and 18 TDs.

UN-CIVIL DEFENSE: After swamping Florida with a smashmouth approach, Louisville's defense can't wait to see what more aggression can achieve this season. Linebacker Preston Brown and free safety Calvin Pryor each posted at least 100 tackles while strong safety Hakeem Smith had 73 for a unit that returns 12 starters and became more relentless as the season unfolded. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford seeks even better results with an emphasis on better tackling.

BEWARE OF THE BOBCATS: Ohio got everybody's attention last September by rallying to upset Penn State 24-14 in Happy Valley, but nobody should have been surprised by the Bobcats. They've gone to four straight bowl games and won their past two, in addition to winning their past four openers under Frank Solich.

RAPID RECOVERY: Louisville defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin escaped major injury after a vehicle struck the Moped he was riding on Tuesday and the junior even practiced late last week, but it's unknown whether he'll start on Sunday. Cardinals coach Charlie Strong said B.J. Dubose was ready just in case.

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Online:

AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/

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AP Freelance Writer Josh Abner in Louisville contributed to this report.

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Follow Gary B. Graves on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/garybgraves