In 2006, Kentucky took its worst ever loss in the UK-UL football rivalry, a 59-28 drubbing that left many wondering whether Rich Brooks would survive and if Andre Woodsonwas the right QB. Of course, UK was able to turn that season around, make and win a bowl game, and the rest is history. Woodson and teammates mentioned often the affect that loss had on the team to work even harder to redeem themselves. Another change occurred in the UK administration when AD Mitch Barnhart decided to push the UL game out of the first game of the year and move it to either the 2nd or 3rd game when the game was played in Lexington. The hope was getting UK more experience before the UL game would be beneficial against a program on the rise like Louisville was then. And let’s be honest, in 2006, Kentucky was 2-6 against Louisville in games played in Lexington, all taking place the first week of the season. In theory, it seemed like a good move.
And in 2007, it appeared that move payed off when Stevie Got Loose and the Cats pulled the big upset in the 3rd week of the season. In 2009, Kentucky played Louisville in the 2nd week of the season, and pulled out a 4-point win in Lexington. Which means, so far UK is 2-0 with this scheduling strategy. But what needs to be discussed is whether this scheduling strategy is even needed anymore. Here is why:
Games in Lexington
2007: UK 40, UL 34
2009: UK 31, UL 27
Games in Louisville
2008: UK 27, UL 2
2010: UK 23, UL 16
In the games played in LOUISVILLE, played in the 1st week of the season, Kentucky has had more success, in margin of victory, than the 2 games played in Lexington later in the season. And frankly, Barnhart and Brooks could not have envisioned what Steve Kragthorpe was going to do to the UL program. So again, when this scheduling plan was created, it was completely understandable. It was a very good plan. And you could argue in 2007, it may have been beneficial to the win. But I wonder whether it is time to switch back to the old scheduling method, now that Kentucky is a better program than Louisville.
First, I think both sides would admit that the game gets more publicity, and more fan excitement, when it is played in Week 1. When UL is the first opponent, fans have something to look forward to in the summer. When that opponent is Miami (OH) or Western Kentucky, as is being shown this summer, that excitement is flat. Even in years when Kentucky came into the season with a less than great team, fans were excited by the chance to play Louisville right off the bat. And the game is more attractive to television, when most BCS teams play a patsy in Week 1.
Secondly, you could argue that this season, the game being the 3rd week of the season in helping UL more than UK. UL currently has 22 freshman in its 2-deep depth chart. Don’t you think it would be more beneficial to have played the game in a packed Commonwealth in Week 1? Barnhart and Co. could not have seen that coming, so I don’t blame them. But now that UK has positioned itself as a solid program year in and year out, and UL is still trying to sort through the mess that was Kragthorpe, UK should take advanatge of that rebuilding and move the game back up. As long as UL does not hold a huge advantage in the series like they did in the early 2000’s, there is no reason to not get as much publicity as possible for the rivalry. And also for the team, which doesn’t exactly draw a lot of eyes to the screen during the season.
This would not take affect until 2013, but I can’t imagine UL being a Top 10 program again and UK falling off the map by then. Joker and Brooks built a solid foundation in their recruiting efforts, and should always be above or equal with UL. The gap between the 2 schools should never get like it was under Petrino again. So I wonder what is the real risk in playing the game in Week 1 every year again? As fans, do you care which week the UL game is played in, and should it be mandatory to be a Week 1 game?