John Clay: Comparing expectations for UK and Louisville heading into rivalry game

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 26, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

It's here. Kentucky-Louisville week.

Football. Start of the season.

Both teams have 12 regular-season games on the schedule.

Both teams start 0-0. Both programs own expectations.

That is where the similarities end.

With this Governor's Cup year including a one-day extension before the Sunday special, here are some descriptions of the differences.

Fan bases

Louisville: The Cardinals are all about proving their fan base right.

After back-to-back bowl appearances, Planet Red is banking on a another post-season berth, with hopes that this year's holiday travel plans will include a marquee landing spot.

Kentucky: The Cats are all about proving their fan base wrong.

The Big Blue Nation is already singing the blues where its program is concerned, and they haven't teed up the first football yet.

Two straight losing seasons and the sudden end of a five-year bowl run has curtailed the confidence of most UK grid supporters.

Head coaches

Louisville: If season expectations are met, Louisville fans expect they might have a difficult time holding on to their now third-year coach.

After the slippage under Steve Kragthorpe, Charlie Strong has pumped optimism back into the program.

U of L fans expect that to continue.

If it does, might Strong continue on to a higher-profile employer?

Kentucky: Expectations are that Joker Phillips might have a tough time hanging on to his job.

It's just his third year. Phillips led UK to a bowl game in his first season as head coach.

He played a major role in the Rich Brooks resurgence era.

Ticket sales have tumbled, however.

So have expectations.

Coordinators

Louisville: Strong drove out former coordinator Mike Sanford in the middle of the 2011 season, handing the play-calling to quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson.

Now Watson has had a full spring and a fall training camp to stamp his brand on the Louisville offense.

Expectations are that Watson has the personnel on hand to do what he wants.

Kentucky: Veteran coordinator Rick Minter took over the Wildcats' defense last year and UK was at least solid and appeared to improve over the final two games. It held Georgia to 19 points and Tennessee to 10.

Fans temper their expectations, however, with worries Minter doesn't have the personnel to do what he wants.

Quarterbacks

Louisville: The Cards want sophomore Teddy Bridgewater to build on what he accomplished last year as a true freshman.

The Florida native is 40 pounds heavier now than he was when he first set foot on the U of L campus. The 'Ville hopes that will add durability to his versatility.

Kentucky: Cats fans want sophomore Maxwell Smith to establish himself as the starter after what he did as a true freshman.

Smith showed promise against Mississippi State and Ole Miss, slipped badly at Vanderbilt, then was injured at Georgia. He's still something of a mystery.

Defensive leaders

Louisville: Strong expects to have a difficult time replacing Dexter Heyman, the inside linebacker who was the Cards' defensive coach on the field last year. Replacements are unproven.

Kentucky: UK doesn't expect to replace the production and leadership it got out of tackling machine Danny Trevathan, plus the playmaking of Winston Guy, who came on his senior season in new coordinator Rick Minter's scheme. Replacements are unproven.

Conferences

Louisville: The media covering the conference picked the Cards to win the Big East.

Kentucky: The media covering the conference picked the Cats to finish last in the SEC East.

Governor's Cup prospects

Louisville: The Cards expect to win.

Kentucky: The Cats expect to surprise.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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