Charlotte, NC – The Louisville Cardinals and NC State 04) 10).
Charlie Strong is in his second season at the helm at Louisville and has his team playing in the postseason for the second straight time, just the third coach in school history to achieve that. The Cardinals began the 2011 season slow with four losses in the first six games, but turned things around over the second half of the season, five wins over the last six outings, including topping Connecticut and USF to close out play and earn a share of the Big East title.
This game marks Louisville's 16th postseason appearance. The Cardinals are 7-7-1 in bowl games all-time.
Much like the Cardinals, Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack needed a strong second half of the season to reach the postseason. NC State had just four wins heading into November, but won three of its last four games to close out the year, including a marquee win over Clemson (37-13). The team finished in the middle of the pack in the ACC at 4-4.
The Wolfpack are making their 26th bowl appearance. The team is 13-11-1 all- time in the postseason. The team has won four of its last five bowl games, including a 23-7 decision over West Virginia in last year's Champs Sports Bowl.
Louisville has won all three previous meetings with NC State on the gridiron.
The Cardinals are a young team, especially on the offensive side of the football and it showed at times this season in terms of consistency. Louisville finished the regular season averaging a modest 21.8 ppg on just 328.2 yards of total offense.
Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed an impressive 66.0 percent of his passes this year, but threw for just 1,855 yards, with 12 TDs against nine INTs.
The youth movement continues in the receiving corps, highlighted by freshmen Michaelee Harris (37 receptions, 455 yards, two TDs), Eli Rogers (34 receptions, 400 yards, one TD) and DeVante Parker (17 receptions, 276 yards, team-high six TDs).
Sophomore tailback Dominique Brown led the team in rushing this season with 482 yards and four TDs. Senior Vic Anderson (478 yards, three TDs) ranked second on the squad.
Strong recognizes the inexperience on his football team.
"You look at a young football team. You look at us on offense. At one point in the last game there, you look at Teddy (Bridgewater) at quarterback, two guards in (Jake) Smith and (John) Miller. Then, you look at the wide receiver with Eli (Rogers), DeVante (Parker) and Michaelee (Harris) - you have three freshmen there. There's six freshmen right there on offense."
The strength of the Louisville team resides on the defensive side of the football. The Cardinals allowed just 19.2 ppg this season.
Senior linebacker Dexter Heyman paced the team in tackles this season with 83 stops. He was also tops on the team in TFLs (15.5), recording four sacks, three INTs and one forced fumble on the season. Sophomores Hakeem Smith (safety) and Preston Brown (linebacker) weren't far behind in terms of tackles, with 81 apiece.
The Wolfpack's offense was a little more stable this season, but still struggled with consistency from time to time. The team averaged 28.0 ppg this season, netting a modest 108.2 yards per game rushing and 238.0 yards per game passing.
Quarterback Mike Glennon had a decent season, completing 62.4 percent of his passes, for 2,790 yards with 28 TDs. The team has a go-to-guy on the outside in wideout T.J. Graham. A game-changer in the return game, Graham also led the team in receptions (tied with 39), for 641 yards and five TDs.
Tailback J Washington proved to be a versatile back for the Wolfpack. He led the team in rushing with 852 yards and seven TDs. Washington also showed his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, tying Graham for the team-lead in receptions (39).
The NC State defense was a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde unit this season. As a result, the team closed out the regular season allowing 24.8 ppg. Opponents were able to amass 219.5 yards per game, but it was at their own risk, as defensive back David Amerson roams the NC State secondary. The All-American led the nation in interceptions this season, with 11 interceptions and one TD return. Amerson was joined in the secondary by a pair of active safeties in Earl Wolff (107 tackles, three INTs) and Brandan Bishop (87 tackles, five INTs).
Linebackers Audie Cole (team-high 122 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, four sacks) and Terrell Manning (76 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks) are difference-makers in the middle, while DT Markus Kuhn (47 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) and defensive end Art Norman (25 tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) get it done up front.