NEW ORLEANS — It happens every bowl season.
Players find themselves either staying home or sent home for either bad behavior (LSU’s Brad Wing) or inattention in the classroom (Georgia’s John Jenkins).
So far, both Sugar Bowl foes Florida and Louisville have been exempt from such misfortune.
But, when asked upon arrival Thursday just how his team has avoided any problems, Gators coach Will Muschamp knocked on wood before he answered.
“It’s a continual education with your players,” Muschamp said. “You want them to make good decisions, but sometimes they don’t.
“What you teach them is that they have to consistently make right decisions or they can’t be in your program. We have a standard of excellence on and off the field, and this team has bought into it.”
Louisville coach Charlie Strong had much the same message.
“What you see is a tribute to our players and their resiliency,” he said. “They know what this program is all about, and I don’t think any of them want to embarrass this program.
“They also know how hard it was for us to get here, so they’re not coming to New Orleans just to see how many hurricanes they can consume.”
Muschamp acknowledged New Orleans has its distractions, but he was counting on his players to handle them.
“There are a lot of fun things to do here,” he said. “And we understand that (when) we go to work we work, and when we have fun, we go have some.
“The key is preparing yourself the right way. Generally, the more mature team teams have the most success in bowl games.”
With eight seniors and eight juniors starting, the Gators certainly have maturity on their side.
Muschamp indicated the players, especially the seniors, had a major say in curfew rules for the week, which he added would remain internal.
“Guys have been smart about making decisions all year,” Florida senior linebacker Jonathan Bostic said. “And we watch out for each other when it comes to keeping out of trouble.”
For the Gators, there’s also maintaining their high position in the polls — No. 3 going into the game, although there seems little chance for them to displace the loser of the Alabama-Notre Dame game for the BCS Championship for No. 2 since they are 15-point favorites against the 21st-ranked Cardinals.
“They’re 10-2 just like we are,” Bostic said. “Maybe they haven’t always played up to their standards this season, but they’re still a good team that’s going to ready to give us a good challenge.”
And that’s not to mention that Strong was Florida’s defensive coordinator until 2009 and recruited and/or coached many of the upperclassmen on the team.
“I really haven’t thought much about that,” Strong said. “But I’m sure when seeing those guys I recruited on the field it might make me a little nervous.
“We know we’re underdogs, but at the end of the day we’ve both got to go play the game. And if haven’t prepared the way we should, it won’t really matter.”
Cardinals senior center Mario Benavides said he felt the Louisville players would know how to handle themselves both on and off the field this week.
“I’m going to walk around some tonight, but after that it’s just a regular game for me,” Benavides said. “Coach Strong has reminded all of us, but especially the younger players, that we may think we’re going to be coming back in this position next year, but there are no guarantees in this sport.
“You’ve got to take advantage of these moments because there’s a lot of good college teams out there who are 10-2 who didn’t make it to a BCS game. There’s a time to have fun, but we’re not down here just to mess around.
Muschamp said two players, safety De’Ante Saunders and tackle Matt Patchan were leaving the program. Saunders, a sophomore safety, started seven games but hadn’t played since the Louisiana-Lafayette game. Patchan, a fourth-year junior, had missed all season with a pectoral injury. ... This is Florida’s eighth straight January bowl appearance, the longest such streak in the nation….Both teams will practice in the Superdome on Friday and Saturday, switching to the Saints training facility on Sunday because of the Saints-Carolina game. ... Some of Louisville’s official travel party, including athletic director Tom Jurich, will return to Louisville on Saturday to attend the Cardinals’ basketball game against archrival Kentucky.
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