1) Tells us how he will take advantage of skill players
-Since Rich Brooks took the job, Kentucky had just one team with more talent at the skill positions than this years team: 2007. Andre Woodson, Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson, Rafael Little, and Jacob Tamme gave Brooks offensive weapons at every position on the field. This year, Joker gets to play with Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, Chris Matthews, and Larod King. Now, while those guys don’t compare (yet) with the 2007 crew, and the QB situation is undecided, Joker does have an array of weapons, both in the running game and passing game. He has 3 QB’s to choose from as well, and how he handles that situation will be his earliest test.
But what really makes the UL game so important is that Joker took some heat last season about his use of Randall Cobb, or rather his lack of use in key points in the game. How does he get the ball in the best UK player’s hands at the end of games: QB or WR or RB. Whatever the case, Joker is going to lose Locke and Matthews next season, and he better take advantage of the talent on this year’s team like the 2007 Brooks-led team did. The Louisville game will be our first view of how he will do that.
2) Have to keep the advantage over Louisville
-Louisville had really grabbed a tight grip on the rivalry during the Petrino years. But thank god for Steve Kragthorpe, who basically handed the series back to UK for 3 years. And now, on paper, Kentucky should make it 4 in a row, even if the game is in Louisville. Overall, I think Kentucky fans would rather beat Tennessee over Louisville on a yearly basis, but this year there is no reason for UK to lose to UL. No reason. And if that does happen, it really puts a dark cloud over the Joker era.
How can we expect a good season if we can’t beat a HUGELY depleted rival? Attitude and motivation shouldn’t be a problem, so then gameplan and execution would be at fault. And that, in part, rests on Joker’s shoulders. Plus, Kentucky football fans can accept loses to teams that are supposed to beat us, but getting beat when we are favored just doesn’t fly.
Also, as long as Kentucky keeps having 2 and 3 win SEC seasons, it’s always nice to have a win against Louisville on the resume.
3) First game of career is very important for first season as a whole
-Rich Brooks lost to Louisville by 16, went 4-8 in his first season. Guy Morris lost to Louisville by 26, went 2-9 in his first season. Both of those teams that the previous two head coaches had came into the season with low expectations. Joker comes in with at least moderate expectations. So, a first game loss to an underdog Louisville would greatly damage the confidence of Joker’s first team, certainly not a good thing for his tenure.
Kentucky always seems to have teams with a fragile confidence anyway, so to start off the season with a loss could be extremely damaging to the prospects of the season. Add to that the players have to be wondering how Joker will handle the head coaching abilities, and you see why CONFIDENCE is on the line with this game.
4) Game could swing recruiting advantage to Charlie Strong
-Strong has had a good early start to recruiting at Louisville, as long as he can actually get his best players qualified. But within the state, Joker and Kentucky have been winning battles for several years now. A Kentucky win in September likely keeps that advantage, but a Louisville win could have a dramatic shift in the in-state recruiting wars. Now, there are not generally that many high division-1 prospects to come out of Kentucky each year, but some of Kentucky’s best players in the past 5 years (Woodson, Tamme, Burton, Micah Johnson, etc.) have come from the state. Kentucky needs to keep that advantage. Only a win will do that.
5) Fan support is shaky for Joker
-Ever since Joker was elevated to offensive coordinator, he has been the “golden boy” for Kentucky assistants. He was long ago tabbed the future head coach of the team, a move that was nearly unanimously approved by the fanbase. But some cracks appeared last season is some of the play calling coming from Joker, or assuming they were coming from Joker and not Rich Brooks. Leaving Cobb out of the 2-point conversion against South Carolina, and the end of game decisions against Tennessee, to name a few.
It means that coming into Joker’s first season at the helm, there are some in the fanbase (a minority nonetheless) that have some questions about how Joker will run this team. Personally, I still love the hire and continuity that Joker gives this group. But, a loss to Louisville in Game 1 would be devastating for Joker. I would go so far to say that a loss to an underdog UL actually puts Joker on the “hot seat” for the fanbase. Not for his actual job, but the fans would already be restless. And that’s never a good thing for a fanbase that is always looking ahead to basketball season. Joker needs to continue the Rich Brooks style of beating the teams you are supposed to and try and pull a couple surprises a year. Kentucky fans can support that strategy, but Joker gets a serious test in Game #1 to continue that success.