Both teams have experienced just one loss this football season, but a majority of the state thinks it knows which will be the winner when Kentucky plays Louisville on Nov. 29.
In a new Bluegrass Poll, 51 percent of respondents predicted Kentucky would win the annual Governor's Cup game, compared to 27 percent who projected a Louisville victory at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Twenty-three percent said they were not sure.
The poll of 800 Kentucky adults was conducted Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 by SurveyUSA for the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington, and The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The 24-point spread is surprising considering U of L was 4-1 and UK 3-1 when the poll was conducted, plus Louisville has won the past three meetings between the two schools.
Never miss a local story.
Kentucky was the projected winner across nearly every demographic, however.
Women were slightly more likely to pick Kentucky than men, but both groups chose UK over U of L by double-digit margins — 53 percent to 24 percent for women and 48 percent to 31 percent for men.
Among age groups, Kentucky found its biggest supporters among those 35 to 49, with 61 percent picking the Cats. Louisville found its strongest supporters in the 50-to-64 age group, with 30 percent picked the Cards.
A disparity did cut across racial lines. Among whites, 52 percent picked Kentucky and 28 percent picked Louisville. Among blacks, 52 percent picked U of L and 25 percent picked UK.
Those numbers might reflect the traditional notion that U of L enjoys more support from the state's black population than does UK.
They also might reflect geography. Louisville is home to the state's highest percentage of black residents — 22.9 percent, compared to 7.8 percent for the state as a whole, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
In the survey, residents of the Louisville region picked the Cards over the Cats by an eight-point margin, 44 percent to 36 percent.
Every other region of the state picked UK by a healthy margin — 51 percent to 21 percent in the Western part of the state; 57 percent to 23 percent in north-central Kentucky, which includes the Lexington area and Northern Kentucky; and 61 percent to 16 percent in Eastern Kentucky.
On the political side, UK was strongest among Republicans, 58 percent of whom picked the Cats, compared to 47 percent of Democrats. U of L was strongest among Democrats, 30 percent of whom picked the Cats, compared to 24 percent of Republicans.
Those describing themselves as conservatives picked UK 56 percent to Louisville's 20 percent. Moderates liked UK 48 percent versus 32 percent for Louisville, while 49 percent of liberals favored the Cats and 30 percent picked the Cards.
Why such a significant spread — 51 percent to 27 percent — in the overall polling?
It probably speaks to the perceptions of the two programs nearing the midpoint of the season. Kentucky is seen as an overachiever, Louisville an underachiever.
When the poll was conducted, Kentucky's most memorable game was a 36-30 three-overtime loss at The Swamp to a Florida team UK hasn't beaten since 1986.
Despite the defeat, UK's strong showing in a venue in which it had not won since 1979 seemed to inject the team and fan base with a new degree of optimism.
On the flip side, the most memorable game for Louisville was a 23-21 upset loss at Virginia on Sept. 13. The Cards' starting quarterback, Will Gardner, has been out with a knee injury. Star wide receiver Devante Parker has yet to play because of a foot injury.
A lot can change before Nov. 29, of course. Injuries will happen. Positions will unravel or jell. Momentum is a tricky thing.
Plus, both teams face daunting schedules. Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame are among the teams remaining on Louisville's schedule. Kentucky has road games at LSU and Missouri, and home dates with Mississippi State and Georgia among its remaining games.
Still, as it stands now, according to the Bluegrass Poll, come Nov. 29, a surprising majority of the state is expecting a UK victory over U of L.