There is very little doubt that when Mitch Barnhart scheduled a 4-game series with Western Kentucky several years ago, he fully expected for UK to go 4-0 in those games. Because no matter how you spin it, Kentucky schedules its non-conference football games for no-doubt wins, except for Louisville. With the grind of the SEC schedule, the program decided that the best scenario for them to make a bowl was 3 basic guarantee wins with wins over Louisville more often than not, then looking for 2-3 SEC wins to make it to 6. And frankly, it worked, as UK went to bowl games with just 6 wins a total of 3 times. But it also meant that often times the non-conference schedule outside of Louisville didn’t garner much interest from fans. That seemed to change when UK scheduled WKU because it would likely be easy wins against an in-state opponent many fans also rooted for, or at least had interest in.
That all changed when WKU won the last 2 games. Now, let’s be completely honest: the series was not being renewed whether WKU won on Saturday or not. UK’s 2014 schedule has already been booked with UL, Ohio, La-Monroe, and UT-Martin. But, I feel it is fairly safe to say that even if a renewal of the series was on the table, it would have been very unlikely UK would have agreed to a renewal. Not with the program rebuilding and WKU having a bowl caliber program now. But my question is this:
As a fan, and considering the last 2 years, would you rather gain revenge on WKU by continuing the rivalry with the risk of taking more losses OR drop them off the schedule completely?
I know my answer is simple: I want WKU on the schedule again. No question. I want them back on the schedule not only for the payback factor, but for the simple point they will be a good barometer of where this program is going. If UK can not consistently beat Western, then I think we can all agree the program will never be a serious competitor in the SEC. But conquering the in-state team that has now embarrassed you 2 years in a row would be a nice feather in the cap of Mark Stoops as he attempts to rebuild the team.
But I also think it shows UK’s willingness not to dodge opponents that can beat them. There is no proof that the series is ending because WKU has won 2 years in a row, but if I am a fan of Kentucky football, I am pushing Mitch Barnhart to put WKU back on the schedule. I am telling him that if this program wants to ever consider itself a serious football team, we have to play serious football games against programs that could potentially beat us. And yes, I understand that we play in the SEC. And yes, the current scheduling method has worked. But, you could argue it has also given the program a ceiling because there are rarely non-conference games to impress the nation. The school has scheduled out of fear. Out of fear of not reaching 6 wins. Out of fear they can’t beat even decent BCS teams. Rescheduling WKU would prove this program isn’t scheduling out of fear. It will schedule teams because it thinks those teams deserve payback and UK is the kind of program that will deliver that. Which is exactly the same reason I hope Louisville is never pulled off the schedule either.
It is a small step in the development of the UK football program, but I truly believe putting WKU back on the schedule in 2015 will be a good step towards showing this program is not longer shooting for mediocrity. It shows this program wants the challenge and will face programs that have beaten them in the past. And if that happens, I salute Stoops, Barnhart, and the moving forward of this program.