Louisville won five out of its last six games to become bowl eligible, while NC State had to win five out of the last seven.
The two squads match up at the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 in Charlotte, N.C. NCSU coach Tom O'Brien said Friday evening that he expects to see an athletic squad with a mobile quarterback, and two teams with momentum.
"They are similar to us," O'Brien said. "Where we got guys healthy and guys back in the lineup, they played so many freshmen that as the season went on, their freshmen became more acclimated to the game and played a lot better. They did a great job.
"We are as hot as any two teams in the country coming into this game."
Louisville true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has gone 167 of 253 for 1,855 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. He also has rushed 80 times for 95 yards and three scores.
Bridgewater got his shot in the third game of the season against Kentucky in place of junior Will Stein, and he passed for 106 yards and two scores in the 24-17. He ended the regular season with perhaps his best game at South Florida. He went 19 of 28 passing for 241 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the 34-24 win over the Bulls.
Landing the Rivals.com four-star prospect was a coup for coach Charlie Strong. The 6-foot-3, 192-pounder was ranked No. 113 overall in the country and the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback out of Miami Northwestern High. He originally committed to Miami, but then de-committed following the firing of coach Randy Shannon. Bridgewater claimed offers from LSU, Florida, Tennessee, Rutgers, South Florida and Miami.
NC State ended the regular season against Maryland's dual threat quarterback C.J. Brown. However, the memories of another true freshman quarterback could be conjured up in comparison to Bridgewater.
NC State's defense got scrambled in 2010 when a fresh Jeff Godfrey came off the bench and rallied Central Florida back into the game before falling 28-21. Godfrey was the star quarterback at Miami Central High and made his way in the starting lineup for UCF his true freshman season. He went 7-of-10 passing for 107 yards, and ran for 53 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries against the Wolfpack.
Bridgewater is decidedly taller than Godfrey, but both were highly touted prep quarterbacks coming out of Miami in their respective years.
"We've played some mobile guys, but not as shifty as this one," O'Brien said. "He's a freshman, and a lot of times, freshman do a lot of unplanned things. There is not a lot that you can plan for. You have to go back and make sure that you contain the football and try to keep him inside of us, and then chase him down."
NC State will start to concentrate on Louisville and implementing the game plan prior to leaving Charlotte. O'Brien doesn't want to have the players go through the distraction of going to the bowl site and learning about Louisville while there."
"We'll take two days prior to going to Charlotte to work on Louisville," O'Brien said. "For the most part, we haven't shown the team. I told the coaches that I don't want to show the team a lot. The coaches are working very hard to play this game. What you don't want to do is be stale."
NC State returned to doing two-a-days Thursday following the end of exams.
"They were a little sluggish this morning with the change in routine, but they were good this afternoon, and were good last night," O'Brien said. "Getting back into the swing of things and trying to get our skills back after exams."
O'Brien has had great success in bowl games, but it took some adjustments after his bowl trip while at Boston College.
"After I got waxed my first year against Colorado, one of the things I did, was I spent too much time getting ready to play that game instead of trying to become a better football team," O'Brien said. "I went to what we are doing now. Basically, it is preseason camp or spring practice, trying to get the younger kids practice.
"Some of these kids have played 600, 700, 800 plays already this year. It's not as important to practice them. We'll start getting them more active as we move forward here."
Some of the players will miss the morning session Saturday, but they have a good excuse.
"You only graduate from college once, hopefully," O'Brien said. "They all get to do it tomorrow. I had them all stand up, so the freshmen know anything is possible, they can graduate too. It's a great day for them.
"If they can make practice, some guys get done by Noon, and they can make it. If they don't, that's fine with us. They should enjoy their day. I think we have 16, 17 guys who will be graduates, playing in the bowl game. That speaks highly of our academic support people and kids working hard for their degrees."
NC State fans have also done a superb job of supporting the team at the Belk Bowl. The Wolfpack fan base has bought over 24,000 tickets for the game.
"It's great for us, it is great for this football team and great for our fans," O'Brien said. "They are excited about going to this football game. Everywhere I go, it doesn't matter. People stop you at gas stations talking about how they are getting their bowl tickets and get ready to go."
"It speaks well for Wolfpack nation in general and certainly will help us down the road when selling tickets is a question of going to bowl games. We aren't finished. Keep buying them. Let's fill the stadium."