UK-UofL football rivalry full of parallels

Which coach needs a win the most?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 27, 2010 

In four days, they will run the 136th Kentucky Derby in Louisville.

Yet for many nuts-and-bolts sports fans in the commonwealth, the next sporting event that will bring the blood to a boil won't happen in the Derby City until Sept. 4.

The 17th renewal of the modern Kentucky-Louisville football rivalry shapes up as one of the most intriguing in Governor's Cup history.

For only the second time since the UK-U of L football series resumed in 1994, both schools will have new head coaches at the same time (the other time was 2003, when Bobby Petrino and Rich Brooks both debuted).

With Kentucky's Joker Phillips and Louisville's Charlie Strong patrolling the sidelines, it means black head coaches will oppose each other in our state's signature football game for the first time ever.

One of the prime questions in the build-up to this season's UK-U of L game will be which new head coach needs to win it the most?

Bear with me, and we'll sort that out.

Even though UK is coming off four straight bowl seasons and Louisville has been home for the holidays three years in a row, the two teams have some important things in common heading into 2010.

Kentucky has a three-man battle royale for the quarterback position among Mike Hartline, Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski.

Louisville has a three-man battle royale for the quarterback position among Adam Froman, Justin Burke and Will Stein.

Ultimately, I expect Hart-line to be under center for Kentucky against Louisville. With his ample game experience and 2-0 record as a starter against U of L, the senior gives UK its best chance to win a rivalry game on the road in a season opener.

At U of L, I look for Froman to get the starting call in the first game. The former junior-college transfer has some experience and has the athleticism needed to play in the Florida-style spread-option that Strong's new offensive coordinator, Mike Sanford, is expected to install.

Kentucky, on paper, will enter 2010 with massive questions on defense, especially its front seven.

Louisville, on paper, will enter 2010 with massive questions on defense, especially its secondary.

The team whose defense finds some positive answers on Sept. 4 is apt to be the one that takes home the Governor's Cup.

It is the intangibles that give a rivalry its flavor and there are some juicy ones that surround Cats-Cards 2010.

UK will be going for its fourth straight victory in the series. Kentucky should be a clear favorite to win.

Problem with that is, favorites are only 9-7 straight up in the Governor's Cup.

Kentucky was a 131/2-point favorite over the Cards and embattled coach Steve Kragthorpe in Commonwealth Stadium in 2009. Yet the Cats needed late-game heroics from star Randall Cobb to pull out a 31-27 victory.

Allowing the Cardinals to stay so close in '09 means the Cards will fully believe they can win in 2010.

On the Louisville side of the ledger, U of L figures to have a home crowd jacked in the extreme.

For the first time ever, Kentucky swept the Cards during this current school year in football, men's basketball and women's basketball. U of L backers will be burning to see the Big Blue tide turned.

The nastiness that pervades the basketball rivalry between John Calipari and Rick Pitino (see Teague, Marquis) figures to spill over into the football game.

Louisville will be playing its first game in the newly-expanded Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

Problem with all that is, home teams are only 7-9 in the Governor's Cup series.

"Stadium games" haven't been kind to the home team in this series. In 1998, when U of L opened Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Tim Couch and Kentucky waltzed in and stole the show with a 68-34 demolition.

The next year, when UK debuted an expanded Commonwealth Stadium, Chris Redman and Louisville returned the favor and delivered a 56-28 smackdown.

Which brings us back to the two new head coaches.

Hired off the two-time national championship-winning staff of Urban Meyer at Florida to replace the unpopular Kragthorpe, Strong is in the midst of a giddy honeymoon with U of L fans.

Having waited two full years as UK's "head coach in waiting" after being named to succeed Rich Brooks, Phillips has not had the normal "new-coach euphoria" within the Kingdom of the Blue.

After we've waited out the 130 days until Sept. 4, Joker will be the new head man that will need to win the most.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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