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Bridgewater, Louisville are on top of Big East

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 11:16 p.m.
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LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 15: Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Louisville Cardinals throws a pass while defended by Kareem Martin #95 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Teddy Bridgewater grew up in Miami and rooted for the Florida Gators. His favorite quarterback played for Florida State.

So much for sentiment or geography. Those are big names in college football, but Bridgewater now is concerned with enhancing Louisville's reputation.

The rising-star sophomore quarterback leads his 18th-ranked, 5-0 team into its first Big East game against Pitt at Heinz Field on Saturday. As added incentive, the Cardinals also have a score to settle — specifically 21-14, the final count of their damaging home loss to the Panthers last season.

“We were on a roll, and those guys came into our house and beat us,” Bridgewater said. “They just outplayed us and did some things we had never seen. We were competing for a Big East championship and, because we lost to those guys, we ended up splitting it three ways.”

The Cardinals won three in a row before the Pitt game and the last two regular-season games afterward. The loss in between deprived them the outright title, forging an eventual tie with West Virginia and Cincinnati.

If Louisville ends up alone at the top this season, Bridgewater (plus West Virginia joining the Big 12) will be a big reason. The 2011 conference Rookie of the Year as a freshman, he has completed 73 percent of his passes — fourth nationally — for 1,134 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Although the odds are long, he is starting to generate some Heisman Trophy buzz.

With Bridgewater spreading the ball around, nine players have at least eight receptions, and the eight touchdown passes have hit seven different targets.

“He does a great job managing the offense,” Pitt defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. “He has a tremendously strong arm.”

Bridgewater has gained only 10 rushing yards, which might be misleading.

“He can really hurt you with his feet as well,” Huxtable said.

“I was impressed with him last year,” Pitt safety Andrew Taglianetti said. “Even as a freshman, I thought he did a good job. I thought he made good decisions. He is athletic. He gets the ball where it's supposed to be, and he has playmakers out there, especially on the edge.”

Bridgewater attended Miami's Northwestern High School, which sent quarterback Jacory Harris and others to the Hurricanes. He first committed to Miami but changed his mind after coach Randy Shannon was fired. Along with his Northwestern teammate, receiver Eli Rogers, he chose to be a Cardinal.

Bridgewater said he tries to pattern his game after former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward, who led the Seminoles to the 1993 national championship and won the Heisman Trophy. It's an interesting choice for a role model considering that Bridgewater was 1 year old at the time.

“I read a lot about him and seen a lot of highlight clips,” Bridgewater said. “He was an exciting guy to watch. He did tremendous things, whether it was running the football or throwing it.”

Staff writer Jerry DiPaola contributed to this report. Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bcohn@tribweb.com or 412-320-7810.

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