Louisville's first 12-win season since 2006 and second consecutive bowl victory eased the sting of missing out on a third straight conference title and back-to-back BCS bowl invitations.
Saturday night's 36-9 rout of Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl also provided the No. 18 Cardinals (12-1) a satisfying farewell to the American Athletic Conference. They will begin next season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, possibly against the same Hurricanes squad they throttled in Orlando, Fla.
The big question is whether Louisville's move will include junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Projected as a first-round NFL draft pick if he skips his senior year, Bridgewater deflected postgame queries about his future. He chose instead to bask in Louisville's third bowl victory in four years and second consecutive season with at least 11 wins.
"I'm going to sit down, talk with my mom, talk with my coaches and talk to some of my mentors and just go from there," Bridgewater said after the game. "Right now, like I said, this moment is all about the team."
Bridgewater must decide by Jan. 15 whether to enter the draft. If the Miami native turns pro, he'll leave as one of Louisville's most successful quarterbacks.
Bridgewater earned the bowl's Most Valuable Player award after passing for a career-best 447 yards and three touchdowns against Miami — the latter giving him a school-record 31 for the season — and running for another TD. He finished with a career-high 3,970 yards, third best in Louisville history.
The game provided an impressive end to a season that began with Bridgewater mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate before an October loss to Central Florida sank his prospects along with Louisville's hopes of winning the AAC and automatic BCS bid. The Cardinals finished second to UCF, which faces Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday night.
Cardinals coach Charlie Strong last month left open the possibility that Bridgewater could return for his final season, noting the QB's close ties with several teammates from south Florida. Louisville fans shouted their wishes of "One more year!' after the game
Strong offered no hints about the decision-making process, saying only, "We're all going to sit down, like Teddy said. Everybody has an opinion. At the end of the day, it's going to be his decision and we're going to back it 100 percent."