Mark Story: For UK football fans, 2014 begins a whole new world

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJuly 10, 2014 

UK's 2014 Blue White Game at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, April 26, 2014. Photo by Matt Goins

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Long before we have any idea how many football games the Kentucky Wildcats will win in 2014, we know Mark Stoops' second season will be a year like no other for UK fans.

Thanks to schedule shuffling mandated by the SEC, games with three teams Kentucky faces every year — Louisville, Vanderbilt and Tennessee — are no longer in their traditional positions on the UK schedule.

As a result, I'm not sure Wildcats backers fully realize just how different an experience the 2014 UK season is going to yield.

Let's examine some possible ramifications of the big schedule changes:

Vanderbilt

Slot on 2014 UK schedule: Sept. 27, Kentucky's fourth game

Historical place on UK schedule: November. This year will be the first time since 1952 (when UK and Vandy did not play at all) that the Cats and Commodores have not faced each other in the calendar's 11th month.

What's lost in the move: Some of the unique personality of UK-Vandy. It won't feel like authentic Kentucky-Vanderbilt without gray November skies. The games played in a misty chill were often to escape the SEC cellar and had a knack for producing odd occurrences.

What's gained in the move: Both Kentucky and Vanderbilt fans will see facing each other early in the conference season as a shot to get off to a positive start in the SEC.

With Vanderbilt having suffered heavy graduation losses and also seen coaching wunderkind James Franklin exit to Penn State, this year's matchup between UK and Vandy shapes up as a pivotal point in the Kentucky season — and could yield Stoops' first SEC victory in Commonwealth Stadium.

Tennessee

Slot on 2014 UK schedule: Nov. 15, Kentucky's 11th game

Historical place on UK schedule: The season finale. UT first closed a UK football season in 1911. Since 1925, Tennessee has been Kentucky's last regular-season game every year but six. The Big Orange has been UK's final regular-season opponent every year since 1953 with the exception of 2001, when the Cats closed with Indiana in a game that was rescheduled because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

What's lost in the move: Long-standing tradition.

What's gained in the move: A lot, actually. Season-ending games are the schedule slot reserved for a school's major rival. Given that UK is 1-28 against UT since 1984, it hasn't been much of a rivalry.

In light of that dismal history against the Rocky Toppers, anything that shakes up the status quo in the series between the two border-state schools almost has to be a plus for UK.

Louisville

Slot on 2014 UK schedule: Nov. 29, Kentucky's 12th game.

Historical place on UK schedule: It was the season opener from 1994-2006. Since 2007, it has been the first game when the contest was in Louisville, but either second or third on the UK schedule when in Lexington.

What's lost in the move: When the UK-U of L football rivalry resumed in 1994, the schools agreed to play as the season opener for two main reasons. First, to generate summer football buzz in our college basketball-mad state.

Second, to give our state's marquee game a chance to garner national attention by not having to compete head-to-head for exposure against more traditional rivalries.

As the last game, UK-U of L will be on the same date as Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State, Ohio State-Michigan, etc. As a result, I fear it will be hard most years for the Governor's Cup rivalry to gin up much national interest.

In-state, does Cats-Cards as the season finale mean less summer talk inside the commonwealth about football? Or does it mean less summer talk about the Kentucky-Louisville game?

What's gained in the move: I always preferred UK-U of L as the opener. Yet I'd rather see it as the season finale every year than the move-it-around-the-schedule hodgepodge we've had since 2007.

In the modern history of UK-U of L football, the Cats have gone 8-12 against the Cardinals. That's not good, but (see above) it's a whole lot better than the current 1-28 stretch against Kentucky's traditional season-ending foe, Tennessee.

For Cats fans, facing Louisville in each season's last game promises a far better chance to end the season on a positive note.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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