UK Football

John Clay: Kentucky-Louisville not what it looks like

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips, left, and Louisville Coach Charlie Strong
Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips, left, and Louisville Coach Charlie Strong

When Louisville beats Alabama in the BCS title game and the Cards lift Charlie Strong on their broad shoulders and carry him all the way to Fayetteville, Ark., to be the Razorbacks' next coach ...

What's that? You say none of that is likely to happen?

OK, when the parking lots around Commonwealth Stadium are an absolute ghost town and Mitch Barnhart has to cancel the football season and schedule soccer matches on C.M. Newton Field ...

What's that? You say none of that is likely to happen?

It's just that after a sizzling summer of hyperbolic hype over this latest edition of the Steve Beshear Cup, which finally, thankfully kicks off on Sunday at 3:30 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, you can be excused for losing a bit of perspective.

As Rich Brooks would tell you, that's the thing about having this game as the season opener. No one really knows anything about the two teams, they just think they do. Everything is based on what happened last year and educated guesses for this campaign. Memories tend to fade. Exaggerations grow.

On both sides.

Take last year's UK-U of L game at Commonwealth Stadium. In the near calendar year between then and now, you would have thought that the Cards crushed the host Cats by 40 points, that Phillips' players were never in the game.

Not exactly true. Kentucky was driving toward what could have been a 10-0 lead early only to fumble away the football. Louisville led 14-10 at the half and 17-10 heading into the final quarter.

The final score was 24-17 Louisville, though Kentucky advanced the ball inside U of L's 15-yard line before an unlucky bounce of a recovered fumble and a fourth-down incomplete pass left Louisville to celebrate a hard-fought win.

Take the argument that because Kentucky plays among the rulers of the universe in the SEC that the Cats have a superior program to the Cardinals, who have been kept out of the more exclusive BCS country clubs and must swim in the public waters of the Big East.

Thing is, playing an SEC slate hasn't done much for Kentucky in the head-to-heads with its so-called Little Brother. The Cats are 8-10 against the Cards since the series hit the restart button in 1994.

At one point, Louisville held a commanding 8-4 advantage before Brooks got the ball rolling in Lexington and Steve Kragthorpe replaced Bobby Petrino in Louisville.

Now take Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville's talented sophomore quarterback. It was the Miami native who popped up off the bench, pumped up the Cards and led Louisville to that win in Lexington a year ago. Bridgewater continued on to Big East Freshman of the Year honors and is considered to be one of the better returning quarterbacks in all the land.

He's also the same Bridgewater who threw 12 interceptions to go with his 14 touchdowns a year ago. He was 57th in the nation in pass efficiency. He also rushed for a net 66 yards his rookie season. He could be RG3 one day, but he's not there quite yet.

Take the Kentucky defense, which gave up 48 points last year to Florida, 54 to South Carolina and 38 to Vanderbilt. It's also the same defense that finished a decent — considering the ineptitude of the offense — 58th in total defense and surrendered just 317 yards at SEC East champ Georgia and 276 to Tyler Bray and Tennessee in the last two games of the 2011 season.

By the way, Bray and the Vols rolled up 524 yards on North Carolina State on Friday night in the Georgia Dome.

That's the same North Carolina State that led Louisville 31-10 in last year's Belk Bowl on the way to a 31-24 victory.

This isn't to say that Louisville is unworthy of being Sunday's 13-point favorite. It's not to say Kentucky will easily overcome its boatload of obstacles this season.

It is to say that finally the claims and the hype and what we think we know can all be pushed aside.

It's time to play some football.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader