Kentucky-Louisville notes: Coaches discuss importance of rivalry to recruiting

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 10, 2013 

There are big implications with any rivalry game.

But the ripples from this year's Louisville-Kentucky game could extend to Ohio and beyond.

Both UK Coach Mark Stoops and Cardinals Coach Charlie Strong discussed the potential recruiting significance of this year's version of the annual rivalry at their news conferences this week.

Despite winning two in a row in the rivalry and guiding the team with the Heisman Trophy candidate and national championship dreams, Strong seemed to feel the intensity getting cranked up.

"When teams have something to play for, then it becomes a bigger game and it will become bigger, because now you get the recruiting on both sides," Strong said. "You look at two programs that are beginning to take steps now and when those steps are taken, you get the program into a position where you need to get it to, then those games will have more meaning to it."

The Louisville coach noted how the two schools suddenly have similar geographical interests.

"Both of us are trying to get into Ohio," he said. "They have some commitments in Ohio, we're both into Florida, we're both in the city here. We'll always battle them in recruiting."

A look at the 2014 commitments for both schools provides a possible glimpse at the future of the rivalry — both on and off the field.

There are a combined 16 players from Ohio in both schools' 2014 recruiting classes.

By contrast, Ohio State and Cincinnati have only 13 combined players from Ohio in their 2014 classes.

Of Kentucky's 24 known commitments (a class ranked No. 7 in the country), nine hail from Ohio, and of the Cats' eight four-star commitments, half of those are from Ohio.

In Louisville's 2014 class, rated No. 17 nationally by Rivals.com, seven of the Cards' 25 commitments are from Ohio. Their only four-star, defensive back Nilijah Ballew, is from Ohio.

Both schools are reportedly in the hunt for three-star wide receiver Dorian Baker of Ohio. He recently told Rivals.com that while he's leaning toward UK his father seemed more smitten with Louisville. The Cardinals already have five wide receivers in the class.

Stoops, who is new to this rivalry but all too familiar with the Florida-Florida State version, said he was curious to see if the game would have a broader effect.

"It didn't impact recruiting at Florida State-Florida, it really didn't," Stoops said. "A lot of our guys were committed before that game, to be honest with you. I don't know whether it will impact recruiting or not. I really don't know."

'Not going to get any easier'

Recent history is not on Kentucky's side as it begins a brutal five-week stretch that includes four straight games against teams ranked in the nation's top 18.

Kentucky hosts No. 7 Louisville on Saturday. After a week off, No. 18 Florida visits. Then comes a trip to No. 13 South Carolina and a home game against top-rated Alabama.

Since 2008, UK has gone 1-18 against ranked foes, with the only win coming against No. 10 South Carolina in 2010. In each of the last two seasons, Kentucky has gone 0-for-8 against Top 25 teams.

The Cats don't plan to look ahead. They can't.

"Right now we're moving one week at a time," running back Jonathan George said. "This week it's Louisville. Not saying I don't realize that the schedule is not going to get any easier from here on out, but we're just moving week by week and going week by week. Right now we're just going to focus on Louisville."

Cards' Strong on past, present UK coaches

At various times, the head coaches of Louisville and Kentucky crisscrossed the state of Florida, but they haven't spent a good deal of time together and don't know each other well.

"I was here when he was at Florida State, so we didn't have a chance to see one another or talk to one another," Cardinals Coach Charlie Strong said of UK's Mark Stoops. "When he was at Florida State and Miami, I wasn't in the state then, so I don't have any relationship."

For his part, Stoops said while he doesn't know Strong well, he is quite familiar with him.

"I've known Charlie for a while," Stoops said of the longtime former Florida assistant. "I can't recall the first time we crossed paths or whatnot, but just being defensive guys, and I have a lot of respect for Charlie and what he's done and have known him for a while."

Strong was more than familiar with former Cats coach Joker Phillips. The two were on the same staff together at South Carolina and lived one house apart.

Strong was hired as a head coach the same season as Phillips, but their paths diverged. Phillips was fired at UK after going 13-24 in three seasons. Strong has gone 25-14 at Louisville, including an 11-2 season last year and a Sugar Bowl victory.

Despite their prior close relationship, Strong said Monday that he has not been in touch with Phillips, now the wide receivers coach at Florida.

"No, I haven't said much to Joker," Strong said.

When asked if it would be strange to coach against a UK team without his former neighbor on the opposing sideline, Strong seemed unfazed.

"Each week you coach against a different guy, so Joker's been on the sideline, but he's moved on somewhere else."

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

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