All of the hype surrounding next weekend’s match up featuring the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky and the Wildcats of Kentucky is definitely not something most of Big Blue Nation is used to. Usually this is one of few “gimme” games on the UK football schedule that the Cats will use to pad the win column in efforts for a bowl game at the end of the year. This year, this is not the case. We all know WKU came into Lexington last season and blitzed the Wildcats, defeating them in an overtime thriller, cementing the fate of now former coach Joker Phillips. This year, the Western games serves as the career opener for Mark Stoops and the hopeful beginning of a new era of Kentucky football.
People all around the state are talking, there’s trash talk going both ways…if you didn’t know any better you would think this was the week before Louisville v. Kentucky with all the nervous excitement surrounding the game. One might be “embarrassed” that we have sunk to the level of worrying about the Hilltoppers, our perennial “little brother”, but the fact of the matter is that they beat us last year, and if UK wants to climb the ranks of the college football world it’ll have to go one rung of the ladder at a time, and this is the first rung.
Until last year, the series with the Hilltoppers was far from exciting to say the least. In 2008, Western had made the transition from Division 1-AA to Division 1-A, and was competing as an independent team. This was the first year they traveled to Lexington and proceeded to get annihilated 41-3. The Toppers came back two years later as an official member of the Sun Belt Conference and the Cats prevailed again 63-28. In 2010, both teams traveled to Nashville and Kentucky won 14-3 in an ugly, way too close for comfort game. We all know what happened last year…Maxwell Smith threw a myriad of interceptions and WKU used a trick play to propel themselves to victory in overtime.
This year is about revenge. This year is about new beginnings. This year is about climbing that first rung of the ladder towards relevance. It’s time for Kentucky to take the rivalry out of this game.