UK football notes: No end in sight to Cats-Cards series

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJuly 24, 2013 

LOUISVILLE — Each and every off-season as conferences expand and contract, talk turns to ditching rivalry games in favor of extra league games.

But neither Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops nor Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart predicts an end to the long-running series with Louisville anytime soon.

"It's a game we've played, Louisville, for the past 20 years or whatever it is," Barnhart told media at the annual Governor's Cup Luncheon on Wednesday. "We'll keep playing for a while."

Barnhart said he doesn't believe the Southeastern Conference is heading to a nine-game format — thus forcing UK to rethink its non-conference schedule — at this point, although he admitted it's harder and harder to plan ahead.

Louisville "is going to a new league and they're going to have their challenges and we've got our scheduling issues," Barnhart said. "A lot of things are happening in the world of college athletics ... We used to schedule, five, six seven, eight years down the road. Now we're scheduling two years down the road and hoping that those schedules hold."

Right now, Barnhart said he's focused on trying to finalize the 2014 and 2015 football schedules.

Stoops deferred to his athletics director, but admitted that scheduling is an impossible jigsaw puzzle, noting there have been two SEC meetings already to try to "grind this out." It's especially difficult for league teams with long-standing rivals such as Florida-Florida State and South Carolina-Clemson, among others.

"There are so many issues with scheduling, it's way beyond me," Stoops said. "These are for some other people to make some hard decisions on scheduling. So that's where it's at. We'll see."

When to play a rival?

It became a big topic when Rich Brooks was head coach: Is it best for Louisville and Kentucky to meet as the first game into the season or wait a few?

The rivals each had their own take, so on years when the game is in Louisville, the Cards prefer it to be first. When it's in Lexington, Cats officials prefer the game be a little later into the season.

Stoops was asked Wednesday for his take on the timing of the rivalry game and seemed noncommital.

"I'll talk to the administration about that," he said. "We generally like to play them after we get a few games under our belt, so game two, game three, somewhere around there. I think with all the conference scheduling issues that are going on within the SEC, we may not have a lot of say in that."

'It's a long process'

Kentucky has hired an architect and a construction manager to get the Commonwealth Stadium renovations rolling, but Barnhart said it's tough to get too excited this soon.

"It's a start. It's a long process," he said. "These things are lengthy. You go through schematic design, design phases, then you've got to go through the bid process, construction, all those pieces. It's a long process. As things are playing out, hopefully we'll be able to start moving some dirt around at the end of this season and people will see some progress."

A couple of times during his talk at the Hurstbourne Country Club, Stoops thanked Gov. Steve Beshear, who was in attendance, for helping UK move the process forward.

He called the $110 million football facilities upgrades needed.

"It was time," Stoops said. "So, our facilities are adequate to win some games, but the level that we want to take our program to, they were needed. The stadium needed some work, and certainly our facilities did."

For the most part, UK's coaches have been able to take recruits to the stadium and help them visualize what the future will look like.

"To some degree when they come on campus, we've been able to walk them through," Barnhart said. "There's no mystery in that. So we've been able to do that very effectively. Mark's staff does a great job of walking people through what were trying to do."

Yahtzee!

The coaching staff has tried to keep it subtle, its little Twitter signal that a new recruit has committed to Kentucky, but the "Yahtzee!" declaration started by wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord has become a running joke Big Blue Nation-wide.

So Stoops tried to contain his smile and his laughter when asked Wednesday if he actually plays the dice-throwing game, but he couldn't help himself.

"Absolutely," he said. "What do you think we're so excited about on Twitter? Absolutely, we play Yahtzee. I'm pretty good, but Coach (Vince) Marrow, he's kind of the best."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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