College football top 25 countdown: No. 8 Louisville has a shot at perfect season

With quarterback Teddy Bridgewater leading the charge and because of a soft schedule, the possibility of an undefeated season has never been greater for the Cardinals.

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 Teddy Bridgewater

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater understands accolades -- and a pro career -- could await him in the future if he stays focused and works hard. (Joshua C. Cruey / Orlando Sentinel / January 2, 2013)

Looking for this summer's antithesis to Johnny Football? Try Teddy Ballgame.

Teddy Bridgewater is a Heisman-worthy quarterback who signs many autographs. If they somehow get on EBay, well, it wasn't by design. There are no reported stories of five-figure payouts or brokers following him down hotel hallways.

Bridgewater says he signs autographs for the right people, for the right reasons.

"I love to see every child smile," he said this summer.

What did Bridgewater do last year that Manziel could not do?

Bridgewater beat Florida, in the Sugar Bowl, in a game that sent his off-season stock soaring. Manziel lost his first college start to Florida.

While Manziel has spent the off-season gallivanting from once social event to another, being the 20-year-old he says he has the right to be, Bridgewater has been a wallflower.

He calls himself a homebody who likes to play NCAA video football. Bridgewater considers the game almost like practice. "Virtual reps," he said, jokingly.

Bridgewater won't allow himself to be hurried, worried, or pressured. He's not looking for the next party or blaming the NCAA for his indentured servitude.

"I know if all my hard work on this level pays off, then I'll be able to make money on the next level," he said. "My education is priceless. You can't put a price tag on that."

Bridgewater, a junior, can opt out for the NFL after this season and he's considered a top pro prospect. Until then, he's looking to lead his team to a promised land.

The expectations for Louisville football have never been higher and the chances for an undefeated season have never been greater.

Bridgewater threw for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns last season and he is one of 14 starters returning on a team that should run roughshod through its schedule.

The Cardinals also added an intriguing piece in former 1,000-yard Auburn running back Michael Dyer.

Everyone remembers Cam Newton, but it was Dyer who was selected offensive player of the game after Auburn's Bowl Championship Series title-game victory over Oregon. He has had many off-field issues but may have landed in the right spot under Charlie Strong, a tough-love coach.

Louisville is playing a last lame duck season in the new American Athletic Conference, the cobbled-together scraps from the old Big East Conference. The setup won't be as easy when the Cardinals join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, so they must act now.

The one thing that might stop Louisville from making a trip to this season's BCS title game is a joke of a schedule. You envision scenarios in which the 12-0 Cardinals get shut out by one- or two-loss teams from power conferences. Louisville debuted at No. 9 in the preseason Associated Press poll, but no team on Louisville's schedule cracked the top 25.

Opening against Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky and Florida International is not going to win any BCS bonus points.

"We can't control our schedule," Bridgewater said.

Louisville has to do more than finish 12-0. It has to pummel opponents and prove to voters it could have gone head to head with the nation's best.

Louisville players are wearing wristbands with the inscription "Earn it."

The Cardinals scored a huge victory over Florida in last season's Sugar Bowl, but Southeastern Conference fans have a way of explaining away embarrassing losses.

Call it the "disinterested factor." But if Louisville makes it to the title game against an SEC team, well, everyone will be interested.

Top 25 so far: 25. Oklahoma; 24. Wisconsin; 23. Fresno State; 22. UCLA; 21. Texas A&M; 20. Notre Dame; 19. Oregon State; 18. Oklahoma State; 17. Arizona State; 16. Nebraska; 15. Louisiana State; 14. Florida State; 13. Michigan; 12. Boise State; 11. Texas; 10. Northwestern; 9. Florida.

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

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