Louisville season ends in disappointment

So much for the Big East going 5-0 in bowl games.

Louisville lost to NC State in the Belk Bowl 31-24 after a second-half rally fell just short on Tuesday night. If you are looking on the bright side, then you realize the Cardinals return 16 of 22 starters, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who should have earned some major respect for his performance last night.

He did make some mistakes, but he also showed an incredible toughness behind an offensive line that crumbled and allowed five sacks. Bridgewater took one shot after another, but stayed in the game and nearly did enough to rally his team to a win. The final drive was not his best moment, as he took two sacks when he probably should have thrown the ball away. But the entire game was a learning experience, and one that should have reinforced his resiliency and his toughness to his teammates.

Bridgewater set a career high with 274 yards passing in the game as the Cardinals needed to throw to get back in it after trailing 31-20. He did have one interception returned for a touchdown, but coach Charlie Strong said after the game Eli Rogers could have done more to avoid that from happening.

There is no question this is a young team that still has to grow up. But after being picked to finish near the bottom of the Big East in his first two seasons as head coach, all that is going to change for Strong in 2012. With so many young players returning, Louisville is going to be considered one of the favorites.

That is something Strong realizes moving forward.

"We have exceeded expectations but now there's going to be a lot written about this team," he said after the game. "Is this a team that's going to be full of themselves? Is this a team that's going to let complacency set in because there's so much coming back? This is a team that has to work hard. So much is going to be said, but what is going to be the true character of this football team?"