LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville is heading to the Sugar Bowl mainly because the Cardinals' were the best in the nation inside opponents' 20-yard line.

The No. 22 Cardinals (10-2) scored on 48 of 50 chances in the red zone, including 34 touchdowns. Their 96 percent success rate ranks first in the nation among college football's 120 FBS programs.

And they needed to capitalize on each those chances to win the Big East Conference and earn a date with No. 4 Florida (11-1) in New Orleans.

The Cardinals had to come from behind in seven of their 10 wins. Three game-winning scores came either in the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime — on plays inside the red zone.

Louisville, which averaged 31 points a game during the season, resumes preparations Wednesday for its stiffest challenge. The Gators rank third nationally in scoring defense at less than 13 points a game.

Last season, Louisville was also very effective inside the red zone, scoring on 84 percent (31 of 37) of its attempts. Still, coach Charlie Strong wasn't satisfied. He added more red zone practice sessions.

"Offensively and defensively in February, we do a scheme evaluation and what that does is it forces us to be really critical about us," Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "The beautiful thing is nobody around here has thin skin.

"We hit it hard and we emphasize it," Watson added. "Because of the emphasis, our kids are really comfortable down there."

The Cardinals' comfort level helped them score on 30 straight opportunities inside the 20 from Sept. 15 to Nov. 24. After being stopped on fourth and 1 from North Carolina's 20 during a 39-34 win, Louisville's only other missed score came 10 weeks later when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was intercepted in the end zone in the third overtime of the Cardinals' 23-20 loss to Connecticut.

That was a minor blemish on Bridgewater's sophomore season. He ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency and his ability to spread the ball in Louisville's pro-style passing attack — seven or more players had a reception in every game this season and 10 Cardinals caught touchdowns — has negated opposing defenders from keying on a primary target.

"You just see this killer instinct look in Teddy's eyes and in the receivers' eyes," center Mario Benavides said of his unit's increased focus when deep in opponent territory. "It's almost like there is no other option but to score."

Watson said the additional red zone practice has been crucial for the subtle changes necessary to eliminate the defenders' advantage when playing on a shortened field.

"One of the things that's really important is being able to understand the spacing aspects. When the fields shrinks, the timing and spacing now goes on the side of the defense," Watson said. "So we have to out-quick, out-explode the defense.

"We've gone down and practiced and practiced and now it's in our DNA."

The Connecticut loss was Louisville's second straight but with the conference title on the line at Rutgers five days later, the Cardinals scored on all four red zone drives in a 20-17 comeback win. John Wallace's 29-yard field goal with 1:41 remaining sealed the win and he finished the regular season 11 of 11 on attempts inside 40 yards.

"He gives us stability," Louisville special teams coach Kenny Carter said of his freshman kicker, who also closed out Louisville's 34-31 overtime win against Cincinnati.

"If the kick is 40 yards or less, it's like a layup. Our players don't think that the kid's going to miss."

Wide receiver Damian Copeland said the month following the Rutgers win has given Bridgewater time to heal and regain some of the offense's midseason tempo. Bridgewater had the cast on his left wrist removed on Dec. 17 and can take snaps under center again after operating exclusively in the shotgun following the injury.

"He's able to start moving his wrists around and catching snaps, not bobbling them. It makes the timing a lot different," said Copeland, a junior who leads the team with 48 catches.

Louisville returns to practice Dec. 26 from a five-day Christmas break. The team departs for New Orleans on Thursday as an underdog in search of the school's second BCS win. Louisville beat Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl.