Sports

Mark Story: Hype building slowly for UK-UofL

Thirty-five days until the Cats and Cards kick it off ­— yet all is quiet?

Joe B. Hall — syndicated radio sports talk show host — had an interesting observation at Thursday's Governor's Cup kickoff luncheon.

This summer has been largely devoid of buzz about the season-opening Kentucky-Louisville football game.

”I can't get anybody to talk about it,“ said Hall, who hosts the Joe B. and Denny Show with former Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum.

Certainly, there is nowhere near the anticipation this year that there was for the UK-U of L football matchup in 2007.

Last year, of course, the game was moved at UK's insistence to the third week of the season for the first time in the modern history of the series.

This year's relative lack of talk flies in the face of the contention of those, like me, who have long held that playing Kentucky-Louisville as the season opener generates football-enhancing interest in the commonwealth.

With the game back in its traditional spot on the schedule, what does this year's reduced chatter tell us versus the summer of 2007?

A couple of things.

Much of the talk in the summer of 2007 was over the fact that UK had insisted on moving the game.

This year's controversy over playing dates — Kentucky's refusal to play on Monday night — didn't have legs (and shouldn't have since it wasn't that big a deal).

Regardless of when it was played, last year's was just a more-anticipated and easier-to-hype game, period.

For the first time since the series renewed in 1994, both teams were coming off winning seasons and bowl victories.

Louisville was a consensus pre-season top-10 choice. You had the curiosity factor of Steve Kragthorpe taking over for Bobby Petrino at U of L.

In Brian Brohm and Andre Woodson, both teams had star-caliber senior quarterbacks surrounded by dynamic, veteran skill players.

This year, Brohm and Woodson are gone. So is much of the offensive star power they had around them.

Coming off a 6-6 disappointment, the Louisville fan base runs sour to skeptical on Kragthorpe.

Combine all of that, it translates into less summer talk about the game.

While I still prefer UK-U of L as the season opener, I will concede that, in-state, the amount of pre-season talk over Kentucky-Louisville no longer seems pegged to when the game is played.

There remains one tangible benefit to playing the game on the first weekend of the season.

Last year's contest, with all the attributes listed above, wound up on the TV backwoods known as ESPN Classic.

This year's game, with far less going for it, will be telecast on the flagship ESPN.

It remains easier to capture national attention for our state's marquee college football game when it is played first.

■ The widely held belief is that not winning the Kentucky-Louisville game is fatal to the season of the loser.

History says that isn't necessarily so.

Over the 14 years of the modern UK-U of L rivalry, the team that has lost the game has been bowl eligible (meaning at least six wins) six times.

At the end of four seasons — Louisville (1998); Kentucky (1999); Louisville (2002); and Kentucky (2006) — the team that lost the Governor's Cup went to a bowl.

In both 1994 and 2007, Louisville lost to Kentucky, still got to six wins, but did not get a bowl invite.

■ There's no reason to put a lot of stock in home-field advantage in the Governor's Cup series.

In the modern UK-U of L series, visiting teams are 8-6.

Louisville is 6-3 in Commonwealth Stadium; Kentucky is 2-3 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

■ Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear went Natalie Imbruglia — you know, torn — over this year's UK-U of L football showdown.

”I approach this game with very mixed emotion,“ Beshear said Thursday at the Governor's Cup luncheon.

”I'm an alumnus of the University of Kentucky. But over 141,000 people (141,471 to be exact) in Jefferson County voted for me last year.“

  Comments