The final season of the crime drama Breaking Bad has nothing on Kentucky's 2013 season opener with Western Kentucky in terms of compelling story lines.
The Stoops debut
Mark Stoops' first off-season as Kentucky head coach played to boffo reviews. Recruiting momentum, recruiting letters (and lots of them), a 50,000-plus throng turning out for the Blue-White Game, Yahtzee!, and more recruiting momentum. After all that, a loss to a Sun Belt Conference foe would halt some of the Kentucky football program's forward motion — and could be used by recruiting rivals to sow seeds of doubt among Stoops' impressive list of 2014 commitments.
The Petrino factor
Even before Joker Phillips got the pink slip with two games to go in the 2012 Kentucky football season, a loud faction of UK fans was agitating for Bobby Petrino as the new top Cat. Instead, the scandal-tainted former Arkansas and ex-Louisville coach landed at Western Kentucky, making him UK's foe in the 2013 opener, not its coach. From his days (2003-06) at Louisville, Petrino is 4-0 against the Cats in first games.
At Fort Campbell High School, Antonio Andrews went 29-0 as a starting quarterback, led the Falcons to back-to-back Class 2A state championships and earned Kentucky's 2009 Mr. Football award. What Andrews did not get was much of a recruiting look from UK. He wound up choosing from among WKU, Air Force, Army and a bunch of Football Championship Subdivision schools. Well, Kentucky, how do you like him now? Last year, Andrews, now a WKU running back, ran for 1,728 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 37 passes for three more TDs. He also had a punt return touchdown. Against Kentucky in Lexington, Andrews scored three times and threw a game-winning two-point conversion pass on a trick play in overtime. In the Music City on Saturday, the WKU senior gets a final chance to show UK what it missed.The celebration
For two schools on the verge of playing for only the fifth time, UK-WKU sure has generated a lot of verbal heat. Last year, amidst a wild Hilltoppers celebration on the Commonwealth Stadium turf following WKU's 32-31 upset victory over UK, then-Western coach Willie Taggart proclaimed that "WKU red is the new blue." At SEC Media Days in July, Kentucky's Raymond Sanders said that Western's celebration was "disrespectful." Said Sanders then: "We're just waiting until Aug. 31 and we're going to let that talk."
The end (for now)
Just as things have gotten hot, Saturday night's UK-WKU face-off at LP Field is the last contracted meeting between the intrastate foes. Both UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and WKU AD Todd Stewart said the schools, having played five of the past six seasons, have agreed to take "a breather." So whatever happens in 2013 in Nashville, it will stand as the "closing act" between UK and WKU for the foreseeable future. Let's play ball!
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.