One of the strangest seasons in Louisville football history will end in appropriately odd fashion: against the program it has perhaps more ties with than any other in the country, and a team whose season has been just as peculiar as the Cards'.
You're already aware of the storylines that are going to be beaten into the ground over the next three weeks, so I'm just going to toss the topics out there and let you use your imagination.
A shi-load of former Miami-area recruits are current members of the Louisville football team
The last one I put in there because I'm thirsty and it just slipped out, but the other three are going to be at the heart of about 85 percent of the Russell Athletic Bowl stories written between now and Dec. 28.
Those stories are primarily for the outside observer. For diehard Louisville football fans, I think the most compelling storyline (or debate) is how this one game can affect the overall perception of a season that was given a larger-than-life buildup in the months following the Sugar Bowl win over Florida.
Regardless of what happens in Orlando, the "what if" portion of the story of the 2013 Louisville Cardinals is already assured of first or second paragraph status in the introduction. What if the Cards don't lose to UCF? What if Louisville had already been in the ACC? What if U of L had been able to schedule a high-profile non-conference opponent or two?
Along the same lines, I think there's a portion of the U of L fan base that has already decided that missing the BCS has made the entire season a letdown. The only thing left to be decided is the degree of disappointment.
While even the most level-headed of Cardinal fans will spend some time playing the "what if" game themselves, I think these people also realize that there's still plenty at stake.
For starters, a win would give Louisville a final record of 12-1, a mark which would match the best in the history of the program. Second, I don't think you can overstate just how much this game means to the Cardinals from around the Dade County area. A lot of these guys were chastised by friends and family alike for choosing a program in Kentucky instead of a place like Miami, and this is their chance to defend the decision on national television.
Third, and maybe most importantly, the Russell Athletic Bowl will provide the final (and perhaps lasting) image for a group of players who have meant as much to this program as any other. We won't know exactly who comprises that group until a few weeks after the bowl game, but I think we can just about figure it out.
All of us can agree that the best thing about this one year in the American Athletic Conference is that it's over. The days of being way too emotionally invested in a Houston/SMU game played in front of 11,000 fans are now officially a thing of the past, and thank God for that.
The flip side, however, is that the safety net is now being wheeled away, and it's not coming back. If the Cards aren't a BCS caliber team going forward, they're going to be exposed. If U of L hits a bad streak on the recruiting trail, then it's probably going to be pretty tough for them to challenge for a conference title.
The days of the hypothetical debates are gone, and the era of proving yourself on the field is finally here. I can't think of a better way to roll into this challenge than off of back-to-back bowl wins over Florida and Miami. Make no mistake about it, this game is a big deal for both the future of the program and the legacy of this special group of Cardinals.