All aboard the mystery train.
They've added extra chairs at Papa John's Stadium, constructed luxury boxes to modernize Louisville's football facility on Central Avenue. Just to the west of the stadium, however, still runs the clickety-clack tracks of the old railroad, as if boxcars might arrive any minute for a game-day delivery.
This year, the metaphor is apropos. When Kentucky and Louisville meet Saturday at 3:30 p.m. for the 17th time since the series was renewed in 1994, both trains bring a new conductor to the station.
A trusted Big Blue aide before, Joker Phillips is the new man in charge at Kentucky. A longtime assistant on Florida's locomotive, Charlie Strong has taken the task of getting matters back on track at Louisville.
Therein lies the mystery, for on paper, anyway, matters appear fairly clear-cut.
Kentucky has won the last three renewals. The Cats finished 7-6 last year, earning the school's fourth straight bowl berth. Head coach Rich Brooks voluntarily turned the job over to Phillips, his coach in waiting.
Louisville's players haven't opened a bowl-game gift bag since 2006. The once-mighty Cardinals slipped all the way to 4-8 last year, an uncomfortable oddity that pushed third-year head coach Steve Kragthorpe out the door before there could be a No. 4.
But just because you think you know what should happen in a series such as this doesn't mean you know what will happen, especially given the new variables.
Why else would the wizards of odds in Las Vegas continue to list UK-U of L with a mere three-point spread in favor of the Cats?
Plus, this series has a new-coach history of surprises. In that 1994 opener, Howard Schnellenberger's Cardinals lost to Bill Curry's Cats 20-14, though surely few argue Curry was/is Schnellenberger's coaching superior. Ron Cooper took over as the Louisville leader the next season, and bettered the incumbent Curry 13-10.
In 1997, the completely unknown Division II coach Hal Mumme took over the Cats armed with an Air Raid offense and unorthodox ideas. Mumme also inherited Tim Couch, whose arm beat Cooper and Cardinals 38-24.
In 1998, the game came to Louisville, thanks to the construction of Papa John's. With the boot-scooting John L. Smith as new coach, some thought U of L would saddle up and ride emotion to a blaze of first-game glory. Instead, the Cats branded the Cardinals 68-34.
The last time both schools owned a new head coach? That was 2004, when Bobby Petrino replaced Smith, who had left for Michigan State, and Brooks replaced Guy Morriss, who had departed for Baylor. The venue was Commonwealth Stadium, but the game and soon the series belonged to Petrino. He earned Big Blue Nation's ire for tacking on a late touchdown in a 40-24 win. The next year, he had his quarterback take a knee at the end of a 28-0 win, then quipped, "We thought we'd give them what they wanted."
Strained relations this time around, at least between the head coaches, appear doubtful. Phillips and Strong are longtime friends. They coached together at South Carolina, lived in the same neighborhood, actually.
"I thought we'd both be head coaches one day," Phillips said recently. "I just didn't know it would be 80 miles away."
That's about all they know, for sure, anyway. Phillips should have the easier road. He's run the Kentucky offense since the start of the 2005 season. But there's a difference between running an offense and running a team.
Strong is the real mystery man. He's kept his Cards close to the vest. If Strong tries to go Gators, the Cardinals will run a speedy spread offense with an aggressive defense. Alas, Louisville doesn't have a Tim Tebow or a Joe Haden.
"We've looked at a ton of Florida film," UK quarterback Mike Hartline said this week. "But we've watched a lot of Louisville tape, just to refamiliarize ourselves with their personnel."
"Coaches don't have the same personnel, but they have the same philosophy," Phillips said. "It's hard to change that philosophy."
Just as it's hard to know exactly how all the changes, especially the one at the top, will affect the outcome. Kentucky is an improving program, but not yet a diesel. Louisville is back to its underdog days, the little engine that hopes to derail its archrival's hopes.
It figures to be an interesting ride.