Kentucky defensive lineman Ricky Lumpkin could serve as the poster child for the momentum shift that has transpired the past few years between the UK and Louisville programs.
As a senior at Kenwood High School in Clarksville, Tenn., in 2006, Lumpkin had narrowed his choices to the Cats and Cards. He originally committed to Kentucky in December, but as national signing day approached, he started to waver.
At the time, Louisville was coming off a nine-win season and would later that year embark on a journey that saw them go 12-1, win the Big East Conference and come within a Michael Bush leg injury from possibly competing for a national title.
Lumpkin eventually de-committed from UK and pledged to the Cards, but the next day he reversed field and ended up signing with Kentucky. Lumpkin got to know several Louisville players while on his official visit, and it didn't take long for his phone to start blowing up with verbal jabs.
"People were like, 'Why are you going (to Kentucky)?'" Lumpkin recalled. "'Louisville's doing this, they're doing that. They're about to go to this BCS game. Kentucky's down, they're not going to do nothing.' I was like, 'Watch.'"
Things got especially worse when Louisville pounded the Cats 59-28 in 2006 while he watched from the stands as a redshirt freshman.
"People were saying, 'What are you doing?'" Lumpkin said. "'You went to the wrong school.'"
Brooks certainly hasn't forgotten the feeling that came with four straight losses to Louisville from 2003 to 2006.
"We were on the bottom tier my first four years; that's not a great place to be," Brooks said. "You have to live in a vacuum not to hear it all year long in this state. You hear it on talk radio, you see it on message boards, you see it everywhere. You see when you're out in public. You get constantly reminded of which side of the equation you're on."
Slowly, however, the tide began to turn. Kentucky rebounded from the U of L debacle for a Music City Bowl bid, its first bowl appearance in seven seasons. Bobby Petrino's messy departure from Louisville followed shortly thereafter, and then the Cats shocked the Cards 40-34 in the third game of the 2007 season.
Since that game, the Cats have climbed up the ladder to respectability with three straight bowl wins while Louisville has had two consecutive non-winning seasons. Even the programs' 2009 seasons got off on different notes. UK beat Miami (Ohio) by more than people expected (42-0) while U of L struggled for three quarters with an outmanned Indiana State squad before eventually pulling away for a 30-10 win.
Subsequently, the chatter about Lumpkin's choice of schools has subsided.
"The last two years people have been like, 'Wow, looks like you made the right decision,'" Lumpkin said.
Lumpkin and other UK players who were in the program during the lean times can relate to what Louisville's going through these days, trying to hang in there and keep their heads up while their coach (Steve Kragthorpe) faces an uncertain future. And Lumpkin said that's what makes Louisville dangerous.
"I understand how they feel, especially their freshmen," Lumpkin said. "They're hearing how they used to beat us like that. Now it's the opposite way around, so there's no telling what they're going to come in here and do. They could come in blazing trying to get the win."
The Kentucky players also say the fact that they were once on the other side of the fence where Louisville is sitting should keep them from being overconfident against a Cardinals team that labored at times with an Indiana State team that has lost 27 straight games.
"I think that does help us," said UK senior tight end Ross Bogue. "We realize they were so dominant for so many years, and now we realize that we're starting to gain a little bit of momentum. We have a little more confidence, I would say, but with it being a rivalry game, we know how much they'll prepare for this game and they'll come in with as much passion as they have."
Brooks expects the Cards to look much sharper and more focused and show more offensive and defensive looks than they did in the opener against Indiana State. And he's preparing his team for exactly that while at the same time pointing out errors from Kentucky's win over Miami.
"It's going to be a completely different game," junior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "It's a rivalry game, our first home game, everybody's going to be excited. I'm pretty sure they're hearing about how we've beaten them the past two years and I know they want to get the Governor's Cup back over there.
"(Brooks) already told us that we made too many errors in that first game, and if we make those same errors again we could lose the game. No one's overconfident. We're all ready to play. The tempo is getting picked up in practice. Everyone's excited. It's our first home game and our arch-rival. You can't not be ready for this."
Lanxter doubtful for U of L
Junior receiver Kyrus Lanxter is doubtful for the Louisville game after suffering a hamstring pull in practice last week. Lanxter is UK's No. 3 receiver behind starters Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. He caught two passes for six yards in the Miami game.
Sophomores Gene McCaskill, Matt Roark, LaRod King and Eric Adeyemi would likely each move up a slot in the rotation if Lanxter can't go.
UK-Florida on ESPN2
UK's Sept. 26 home game against top-ranked and defending national champion Florida has been selected for a 6 p.m. broadcast on ESPN2.