Bridgewater leaving No. 18 Louisville for the NFLLouisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater greets fans after Louisville defeated Miami 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl NCAA college football game in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will forgo his senior season with the No. 18 Cardinals and enter the NFL draft.
Projected as a first-round selection and possibly the first QB taken this spring, Bridgewater completed 71 percent of passes for 3,970 yards and a school-record 31 touchdowns this season, including a career-best 447 yards with three TDs in Saturday's 36-9 rout of Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Bridgewater said in a release that the decision ''was extremely difficult,'' but added that attending Louisville ''was one of the best decisions I could have ever made.''
With Bridgewater starting, the Cardinals won 27 games and tied a school record with this year's 12-1 finish. Despite some lackluster efforts following a loss to Central Florida, Louisville entered the bowl game with the nation's 18th-ranked passing game at nearly 303 yards per game and 34th in total offense at 453.1.
Bridgewater's career highlight was last year's 33-23 Sugar Bowl upset of Florida in which the 6-foot-3, 196-pound Miami native earned MVP honors after passing for 266 yards and two TDs.
His decision wasn't surprising considering he began the season as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate before those prospects dropped with the October loss to UCF that also ended the Cardinals' chances of winning the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship.
However, Bridgewater's pro stock remained steady and even gained steam down the stretch after he rallied Louisville past Cincinnati with a gutsy 14-yard scramble on fourth-and-12 and an off-balance 22-yard TD pass to Damian Copeland in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals won 31-24 in overtime to clinch the Russell Athletic bowl bid.
Bridgewater consistently remained coy about his future, even after leading the Cardinals to their second consecutive bowl win. Late in the season, Louisville coach Charlie Strong even suggested the possibility that his star quarterback might return for his final year.
But after talking with his family and Louisville's coaching staff, Bridgewater chose the option that was long expected. He leaves as Louisville's No. 3 career passer with 9,817 yards and 72 TDs against 24 interceptions. His 68.3 percent completion rate is a school record.
''These past three years have allowed me to mature as a person and leave the university as better person and with my degree in hand, which was one of my goals,'' Bridgewater said in the statement.
''I will cherish every moment on the field and off the field, and every bond that I built. I will forever represent the university with the utmost pride and respect.''
Waiting in the wings to succeed Bridgewater are redshirt freshman Will Gardner, freshman Kyle Bolin, and junior Brett Nelson.