As the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals prepare to battle for the Governor’s Cup for the 22nd time in the modern history of our state’s marquee football rivalry, chew on this:
Whether your allegiance is to #L1C4 or #BBN, the common sense reasons to believe your team should be at the advantage when the game kicks off Saturday at high noon in Commonwealth Stadium are belied by the quirky, unpredictable history of Cats-Cards.
Conventional wisdom: With this year’s game in Lexington, Cats fans should be optimistic that their team has an edge.
Cats-Cards rivalry rule one: The “home-field advantage” isn’t.
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Since Kentucky and Louisville resumed their football series in 1994, home teams are a fairly amazing 8-13.
UK has a better record against Louisville in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (4-5) than it does against the Cardinals in Commonwealth Stadium (4-8).
So if Mark Stoops and the current Wildcats (5-6) are to attain bowl eligibility with a victory over Bobby Petrino’s Cards (6-5), series history says it will not be because of any boost from where the game is played.
Conventional wisdom: Louisville fans should feel confident of victory Saturday because the Cardinals are favored by 3 1/2 points.
Cats-Cards rivalry rule two: Being the favorite is problematic.
Since 1994, the team favored to win Kentucky-Louisville in the Glantz-Culver line that runs in the Herald-Leader on the day of the game has done so only 13 times. (If, for entertainment purposes only, you are interested in how favorites have fared against the spread, they are 9-12.)
Part of the reason, I suspect, the favorites have such a lukewarm history in Cats-Cards football is that from 1994-2006 (with the exception of 2001) the game was played as the season opener for both teams. That meant there was abundant uncertainty for the predictors.
Now that it appears, at the behest of the SEC and the ACC, that the UK-U of L football game will be the season finale from now on, it will be interesting to see if favorites start to fare better.
Last year, the first time Kentucky and Louisville played to end the season, U of L was a 14-point favorite — but was very fortunate to win by four.
Conventional wisdom: When your team gets its archrival in a new or enhanced stadium, the additional emotion should give you an advantage.
Cats-Cards rivalry rule three: “Stadium games” are fatal to the home team.
In 1998, Louisville opened Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium against Kentucky. Tim Couch and the Wildcats christened the joint with a 68-34 beat-down.
The following season, UK unveiled a renovated and expanded Commonwealth Stadium. Chris Redman and the Cardinals spoiled UK’s party with a 56-28 throttling.
In 2010, U of L debuted an enlarged Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Kentucky ruined the festivities with a 23-16 win.
This season, Kentucky opened yet another new and improved Commonwealth Stadium. Unlike past “stadium games” in the UK-U of L modern rivalry, the Cardinals will be the eighth team to play in the new CWS, not the first.
Does that mean the “first game in the new stadium hex” on home teams in the UK-U of L football series is over?
Conventional wisdom: Louisville fans should draw confidence from the fact that their team has won four games in a row over Kentucky.
Cats-Cards rivalry rule four: At least until now, the “rivalry gods” have capped modern UK-U of L football series winning streaks at four.
From 2003-06, Louisville — under an up-and-coming head coach named Petrino — won four in a row over Rich Brooks and NCAA probation-impacted Kentucky.
Then, just as U of L fans got excessively cocky about their hold over UK — referring to Kentucky football as “Louisville’s play thing” — the worm turned.
Kentucky won four straight under Brooks (first three) and Joker Phillips from 2007-10.
Alas, just as the Governor’s Cup trophy seemed on near-permanent display in Lexington, Louisville under Charlie Strong reclaimed the rivalry upper hand behind true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in 2011 (in Commonwealth Stadium, of course).
The Cardinals have not lost in the series since.
Still, Petrino’s victory last November in his return to the rivalry was U of L’s fourth in a row.
Based on the quirky “rules” of the modern Cats-Cards football rivalry, the fact that Louisville brings a four-year winning streak into this season’s meeting with Kentucky ought to terrify, not fortify, Cardinals backers.