Let's start talking UK-UofL football

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 1, 2009 

In Kentucky, the horsey set and the party crowd annually point toward the first Saturday in May.

However, many of the commonwealth's rank-and-file sports fans already have their attention turned to the third Saturday in September.

When Kentucky and Louisville renew the Governor's Cup football rivalry for the 16th time in its modern history, UK will be trying to do something it has never accomplished since the football series with U of L resumed in 1994:

Beat the Cards for a third consecutive season.

Embattled Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe will be trying to do something he's never done, period:

Beat the Cats.

So one day before they run for the roses, let's take a break from all horses all the time for a first look at our state's signature college football game.

Quarterbacks

Two years after Andre Woodson and Brian Brohm left, the UK-U of L quarterback matchup is a muddle.

Kentucky's Mike Hartline started in six games the Wildcats won a year ago but lost the QB job late in the season. He re-established his hold on the position with solid play in the Liberty Bowl but didn't do anything to help himself in the realm of public opinion with a so-so showing in UK's Blue-White Game.

With lavishly hyped high school prospects Ryan Mossakowski and Morgan Newton joining the Kentucky program this fall, expect an impatient fan base to agitate to get one (or both) of the freshmen on the field immediately.

Who will be under center for U of L is sheer mystery. Former Lexington Catholic star Justin Burke, junior-college transfer Adam Froman, and redshirt freshman Zack Stoudt (the son of former Steelers QB Cliff Stoudt) ended the spring battling for the No. 1 job.

If Burke, a transfer from North Carolina State, wins the race, he will make Governor's Cup history: He would be the first Lexington high school product to start at quarterback for Louisville against UK

Advantage: Blue.

Offensive playmakers

If he can stay healthy, Randall Cobb could become a Kentucky version of Percy Harvin — a game-breaking threat from many spots on the field.

Kentucky coaches are almost salivating at the thought of using the quarterback-turned-receiver in a "Wildcat formation" similar to what Houston Nutt did with Darren McFadden at Arkansas.

Still, with Derrick Locke fighting to come back from a severe knee injury, Cobb and veteran tailback Alfonso Smith are the only established difference makers Kentucky has entering this fall.

UK's brain trust has a lot of hope invested in incoming junior college wideout Chris Matthews, he of the 6-foot-5 frame and supposed 4.4 speed.

In the past, however, even the most successful junior college wideouts at UK — think Steve Johnson, Chris Bernard and Aaron Boone — have not really hit their stride until their senior years.

Conversely, offensive playmakers should be U of L's strength. If receiver Scott Long returns healthy for 2009, he will give the Cardinals a stretch-the-field deep threat. Wideout Doug Beaumont had a breakout season last year for U of L; 6-foot-8 Josh Chichester has promise; and running back Victor Anderson became a star in 2008.

Advantage: Red.

Defense

Kentucky has its three most talented players — Trevard Lindley, Micah Johnson and Jeremy Jarmon — back from the defense that flat-out stoned U of L last season. The Cats also appear to have top-level, emerging talent in sophomores Danny Trevathan (linebacker), Winston Guy (safety) and Randall Burden (cornerback).

Louisville is on its third defensive coordinator in as many years. Brent Guy inherits a unit that got worse as the season went along in 2008 and had significant graduation losses up front.

Advantage: Blue.

Intangibles

UK will likely be favored and will have home-field advantage. Then again, in the modern Governor's Cup series, favorites are only 8-7 straight up and home teams are 6-9.

U of L will have the coach that needs victory the most. The Louisville fan base has never much warmed to Kragthorpe. His 0-2 record against UK and 11-12 overall mark may make this a make-or-break year for Krag.

Advantage: Blue

As you sip mint juleps on the first Saturday in May, there will be only 140 days until the third Saturday in September.

Reach Mark Story at 231-3230 or (800) 950-6397, Ext. 3230, or at mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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