This summer, there’s been a lot of talk about the UK-UL football game. There’d still be a lot of talk about it if it was the third game of the season, but when it’s the opener, there’s a buzz all summer long about the season opening game between the Cats and the Cards on Labor Day Weekend. Since there aren’t other games to play before the in-state contest this year, players haven’t been afraid to start trash talking and getting excited about the game well before fall camp even opens up, which has been fun for fans of both programs. I understand that UK originally wanted to move the game back in years that the game is in Lexington so that the team can have more time to prepare for a crucial game. In terms of becoming bowl eligible, there isn’t a game on the schedule more important on a yearly basis that is consistently tough, yet realistically winnable.
I would argue, however, that both teams will be better prepared for the game this year than they were last. Instead of watching film and preparing for WKU or Central Michigan, and then having only a week to prepare for Louisville, UK can now spend much of this summer focusing on film and tendencies of Louisville. Last season, both UK and UofL started out flat, perhaps because there wasn’t a sense of urgency around either program until it was the week of the Governor’s Cup. UK barely beat WKU, and Louisville didn’t beat Murray State convincingly before losing to Florida International in week two. Both teams seemingly went through the motions until it was the week of the Governor’s Cup, but both teams eventually finished the regular season on a good note. Not only could this be a good idea from a football perspective to keep the game on the first week, but playing on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend is also usually a sure-bet to get on national TV.
There will be an ESPN national broadcast of this year’s UK-UL game on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, just before the NFL season gets going. If the UK-UL game happened to be in Lexington this year on the third week of the season, it’s possible that the Cats wouldn’t have a single game on national TV. When UK first made this change in the schedule every other year starting in 2007, they still had their share of SEC games that were getting on national TV (2007 vs LSU, Florida, and Tennessee were all CBS games), but now Kentucky is not getting many games televised outside of ESPNU or the SEC regional viewing area. In order to recruit even close to the level of other SEC programs, Kentucky needs to ensure that they have at least one nationally televised game each year. In 2010 the Governor’s Cup was played on the first week and was on ABC, in 2011 it was played on the third week and was on ESPNU, and in 2012 it’s going to be played on the first week and it will be on ESPN. As you can see above, even that thrilling 2007 game was only seen on ESPN Classic, because there were too many good games to compete with in the third week of the season.
Sound off in the comment section with opinions below, but I can’t seem to think of any reason why this game shouldn’t always be played on the first week of the season every single year.