CINCINNATI — In an ideal world, Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks would play his season opener in Commonwealth Stadium against someone other than Miami (Ohio). But in today's world of complex college football scheduling, you have to give a little to get a little.
With options dwindling to fill the final slot on its 2009 schedule, UK agreed to a two-game series with Miami, the first of which is Sept. 5 at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium. Miami has agreed to come to Lexington in either 2010 or 2013.
The coaches talked about the matchup during a news conference Tuesday.
"I'm already a little leery and a little nervous," Brooks said about the game, which has been labeled the "Rumble at the River."
Miami went 2-10 last fall, but the RedHawks welcome a new coach in former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Haywood. It's Haywood's first job as a head coach, and that alone could make things tricky from a scouting perspective. Also, while it is technically at a neutral site, the game is part of Miami's season-ticket package. UK will get 30,000 tickets, meaning there could be nearly as much red as there is blue at Paul Brown Stadium, which seats 65,535. Greater Cincinnati is one of Miami's largest alumni areas with more than 40,000 alumni and 61,000 constituents. Miami Athletics Director Brad Bates is expecting the largest contingent of Miami fans in the program's history.
"We won't have a lot of game film on (Haywood)," Brooks said. "It's a difficult opener at a neutral site. Hopefully we can fill half the stadium in blue and white."
Brooks noted the positives as well. Kentucky has a strong fan base in the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati areas. The game could also help the Cats make recruiting in-roads in the Cincinnati area, which produces Division I prospects annually.
Bates said the schools started talking in 2003 but couldn't get things finalized until recently. Brooks noted that nowadays BCS programs have to be willing to be more flexible in scheduling.
"We need to expand our role," he said. "It becomes more and more difficult to try and just schedule non-conference games into your stadium without a return or neutral-site game. You have to open new avenues to get teams to come to you. The game of scheduling has changed a lot in the last two or three years. But, ultimately, it's a win-win situation, because we can't ask to play in a better venue."
While Brooks will have to dig out some old Notre Dame film to try and get a read on what Haywood will do, Haywood has plenty of film on Brooks and UK.
"We've spent some time studying Wildcat film, and I will say that there's been one game plan written," Haywood said. "That's one of the advantages we have."
Miami has used spring practice to get acclimated to Haywood, a disciplinarian who implemented a winter conditioning program that started at 6 a.m. and took place in temperatures as low as 8 degrees.
"Things have definitely changed at Miami," said junior safety Jordan Gafford. "We feel good about Coach Haywood. If he says something, it happens. He's a man of his word, and that's what he expects out of us. He's got us mentally and physically tougher, and we're more disciplined than we've been in the past."
While Bates spoke of the value of having the Kentucky "brand" name as part of the package, Gafford, who grew up in Columbus, admitted he wasn't a huge follower of Kentucky football growing up. But the opportunity to add another name to the "Tomahawk Wall," a spot in the RedHawks' locker room that lists all the major conference opponents Miami has knocked off over the years, has the Miami players fired up.
"We'd love to throw another tomahawk on that wall, but we know it's going to take a lot of work to do it," Gafford said.
Both coaches spoke of the need to start the season well. Haywood knows that a win over UK would get people on board.
"I think it's really important for us to start off with a bang," Haywood said. "I've been out talking to our fraternities and sororities, and we'll be loading up buses through our marketing department and taking as many students as we can."
Perhaps one of the most overlooked facts over the past three seasons is UK's 11-1 record against non-conference teams.
The rest of the schedule will have an interesting look. UK has an open date following the Miami game before playing on 11 consecutive Saturdays starting with the Sept. 19 home opener against Louisville.
But Brooks made it clear he's not worried about the rest of the schedule right now. He's worried about Miami.
"It's imperative that we focus on the opening game," Brooks said. "We'll have time to regroup and get ready for Louisville after that. But it's critically important that we get off to a good start. The past couple of years (non-conference) has played out well for us, and that's been important to our long-range success."
Individual ticket prices for the game are $35 for the upper bowl, $45 for the lower bowl and $75 for club level. For game tickets, call the UK ticket office (800-928-2287). The game is not part of UK's season-ticket plan, but season-ticket holders can order tickets on their season-ticket form.
Bates said he doesn't expect the game to be broadcast live on TV. No time has been set, but Bates expects the game to kick off sometime in the mid-afternoon.