Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Colleges

Former Florida Gators lend support at Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS — Florida brought out the star power during the pregame at Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl.

Among those in attendance at the Superdome were two Heisman Trophy winners, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow, and former All-America RB Emmitt Smith. Wuerffel and Smith were part of the coin toss.

Sugar Bowl games with Tebow and Wuerffel at the helm hold fond memories for Florida fans. The quarterbacks combined for 788 yards and six touchdowns during their careers. And both played the final games of their careers in the game.

Louisville countered with boxing legend Muhammad Ali and former LB Tom Jackson.

Two leaving: Florida S Matt Elam and DT Shariff Floyd said they will skip their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.

"It's always been my dream to play in the NFL," Elam said. "I want to take care of my family."

Floyd said he decided after the game: "I was focused on this team the whole time until now."

Outshouted: There were nearly 10,000 unsold tickets among Florida's 17,500-ticket allotment. And the impact could be felt loud and clear.

Louisville fans (who bought all of the school's allotment) far outnumbered the Gators and kept them drowned out throughout.

Before the game, coach Will Muschamp said he understood why the Gators had trouble selling tickets despite an 11-1 record.

"With the economics, we're going through a tough time in the country," he said. "I think that certainly has affected everyone; not just Gator fans."

RECORD: With a 33-yard field goal during the second quarter, Caleb Sturgis broke Florida's season record with 24. Bobby Raymond made 23 in 1984.

MAKING HISTORY: Louisville coach Charlie Strong became the first black head coach to lead a team in the Sugar Bowl.

Strong, who was an advocate for schools opening up the hiring process to qualified minority coaches before he was hired at Louisville in 2010, said the success of more black coaches has ensured race isn't as much of a factor in hiring at the collegiate level as it was not too long ago.

"If you look at just what has happened over the last number of years, race hasn't been an issue with the hiring of coaches," Strong said Tuesday. "You look at Texas A&M hired (Kevin) Sumlin and the hiring of (James Franklin at Vanderbilt) and myself at Louisville. The opportunity is there. We have a chance to go out and be successful. It opens up more eyes."

SUNSHINE STATE: The state of Florida was well-represented in the Sugar Bowl, but it wasn't just the Gators roster. Strong, a former Florida defensive coordinator, still has strong ties, and he has 34 players from Florida. Louisville assistants Kenny Carter and Vance Bedford also recruited the state while assistants at Florida. "It's been huge for us," Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "There's a lot of strong ties with our staff to the high school coaches and the community of coaches down there. Those kids are the kids that have turned around our program."

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