The Golden Eagles went to their ninth straight bowl game, the league's second longest active bowl streak. This was their first bowl trip to Florida in 29 years since playing Missouri in the 1981 Tangerine Bowl in Orlando. Although the 2010 season proved to be a successful one on the field for the Golden Eagles, sadly the most memorable public event was when three players were shot after a fight at a club spilled outside to the parking lot. Linebacker Martez Smith suffered the most serious injury, and is paralyzed from the waist down. The Golden Eagles went 1–1 following the tragic events, winning over Houston but losing a shootout to Tulsa.
Under first year coach Charlie Strong the Cardinals returned to their first bowl game since the end of the 2006 season when they appeared in the Orange Bowl. Louisville entered the contest with a 6–6 record after defeating Rutgers to become bowl eligible. The Cardinals' defense ranked 12th in the nation in total defense during the regular season. Louisville had gone to eight bowl games in nine years but had been absent from bowl play for the three seasons immediately preceding 2010.
The two teams were not strangers to one another having played in the same conference for years. Southern Miss entered the game with an 18–9–1 series lead. The teams played each other in a non-conference matchup during the 2009 season with Louisville winning 25–23 at home. This was the first time that the two schools have played each other in a bowl game.