Teddy Bridgewater had a breakout performance in last season’s Sugar Bowl upset of the Florida Gators. Many believe that if he had been eligible to enter the NFL Draft, he could have parlayed that performance into becoming the first quarterback taken in April. He wasn’t, though, so he returns to lead the Louisville Cardinals in 2013. It should be an excellent year for the Cardinals and Bridgewater, who has been named an early Heisman Trophy favorite and a preseason All-American. No matter what happens this year, however, it should be his last collegiate season.
We have seen countless examples of quarterbacks spending one too many years in college and having it do irreparable damage to their draft stock. If Matt Barkley had left the USC Trojans after his junior season, he would have been a top 10 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Instead, he returned to school for “unfinished business” and ended up falling to the fourth round after injuries and ineffective play dropped his stock like a rock. Bridgewater should learn from this example and get out while the getting is good.
In 2013, Louisville sets up with one of the most favorable schedules in the country to make a run at a perfect season. The Big East will be rebranded as the American Athletic Conference, but the level of play will not be any better. One of the two teams that beat the Cardinals in 2012, the Syracuse Orange, is no longer there and they’ve been replaced with selected former members of Conference USA. They play just one non-conference game against an FBS opponent that had a winning record in 2012 and get two of their biggest roadblocks to an AAC title (Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Central Florida Knights) at home.
That is a cupcake schedule that will allow Bridgewater to continue building his legend as an elite quarterback. It sets up for him to put up huge numbers while building a Heisman campaign and taking the Cardinals to another conference title and a BCS appearance. His stock will be as high as it possibly could be, and that should prompt him to get out of Louisville.
If he doesn’t, he will likely watch his draft stock tailspin like so many other quarterbacks before him. That’s because if Bridgewater stays for his senior season, he will be leading the Cardinals into a new conference, the ACC. With that move comes a major step up in competition.
Looking ahead to the Cardinals’ 2014 schedule, Louisville trades in their annual games against mediocre AAC opponents for games against the Florida State Seminoles, Clemson Tigers, Miami Hurricanes and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, all potential top 25 teams in 2014. Nothing like getting dropped into the deep end, I suppose.
It is highly unlikely that Bridgewater would be able to do more against that schedule than he would against the easier slate of games Louisville has in 2013. All he will do is add losses to his resume, bruises to his body and a much smaller signing bonus to his bank account when he goes on the NFL. The competitor in him may want to stick it out, but the best decision for Teddy Bridgewater’s career is to dominate in 2013 and then pack his bags for the pros.