By: Kris Carr
Right now, Cardinal fans are dealing with freezing temperatures and slipping around on frozen sidewalks. The Cardinal football team, however, is enjoying the much more pleasant climate of St. Petersburg, Florida. This is a well earned reward for this teams hard work and over achievement this season. Coach Strong has done quite an impressive job taking this team to a bowl game in his first year and earning Big East Coach of the Year honors.
The Cardinals were predicted by most “experts” to win between 3-5 games and finish last in the Big East. Strong instilled an attitude in his players that they could win and compete in every game they played. This translated into vast improvement in all phases of the game, as well as more overall wins.
Most notably, Strong has put his stamp on the defensive side of the ball. The Cardinal's D started the season giving up a touchdown in the first two plays of the opening drive against UK. They finished the season as an aggressive, blitzing unit that was 12th in the nation in overall defense.
Now the Cards need to capitalize on their good season in several ways.
First, they need to get as much out of these extra weeks of practice that they are afforded. Developing the young talent that is on this team is crucial to avoid a relapse next season. Four of the five starters on a very good offensive line graduate this year. The new guys need to take advantage and get ready for next year.
Second, the coaching staff needs to take advantage of the bowl game's location in Florida to lock down their Sunshine State targets. Coach Strong has done a great job recruiting Florida. He is now targeting the #2 dual threat QB in the country who has de-committed from Miami. Strong needs to come back home with all of the recruits that the Big 3 (Florida, Florida State, and Miami) couldn't take. This will be the key to UL's long term success.
Lastly, they need to win the game. Make no mistake, Southern Miss is a formidable opponent. They are a top 20 offense averaging nearly 500 yards a game. This will be a stern test for Strong's defensive unit. But at the end of the day, this is a game in which UL will be favored. This is a BCS team against a team from Conference USA. If the Cardinals take care of business, Coach Strong will give Cardinal fans a Christmas present they haven't had in quite some time----a winning season.
Final prediction- UL 28- Southern Miss- 20....Happy Holidays and Go Cards!