You see it happen every college football season. Fans develop a sense of confidence due to absence. The slate is wiped clean. Whatever happened last season is a thing of the past and September brings a new campaign with new results. A refreshing feeling that diehards have at the beginning of any given season.
This confidence comes a multitude of factors: returning top talent, expectations, coaching, generous scheduling, promising newcomers, rabid fan base, stadium atmosphere, etc. For most fans, if even one of these factors is met, there is a reason for the confidence – whether it turn out to be false or not. As we head into this weekend’s Governor’s Cup game, both sides have confidence. Thing is, only one can justify their self-assurance.
The Louisville football team is ranked in the pre-season Top 25 for the first time since Brian Brohm was the QB and the squad was coming off a BCS bowl victory. Charlie Strong has become a beloved icon among the fan base despite a not-so-shiny 14-12 record. The Cards return nearly every significant player from a co-conference championship team. Ticket sales are at an all-time high, expectations are through the roof (Big East title or bust), and fans have a reason to be confident headed into the season.
The Kentucky football team has been picked to finish in the bottom 2 or 3 of the SEC by nearly every pre-season prognosticator in the country. Joker Phillips’ seat is so hot you could fry an egg on it, due in part to an 11-14 record and 0-1 record in bowl games. The Cats lost arguably there two best defenders (Winston Guy & Danny Trevathan) and Tennessee-slaying folk hero Matt Roark. Ticket sales are down significantly, expectations are indifferent, and Phillips’ job-approval rating is at Bill Curry levels. Anything can happen in the wild world of sports, but UK fans have very little – if any – reason to be confident headed into this season.
All that being said, there is a weird sense of confidence coming from the BBN about Sunday’s game. Turn on your radio, open a message board/blog, or hop on Twitter at any given time of the day this week and it is hard to miss. I understand the game is a rivalry and I wouldn’t expect the uber-loyal blue bloods to concede defeat, but one has to wonder where in the world all this false bravado comes from.
Does the confidence come from a decided advantage at a particular position or facet of the game? If you break down every unit (QB, RB, WR, OL, DL, LB, DB, K/P), one could argue Louisville has the advantage in everything but the kicking game (which Strong hasn’t been too kind on, lately). Some could argue that the battle of the trenches (OL/DL) is a wash. No one will argue about the talent being convincingly better at the skill positions & quarterback for Louisville. Seems difficult to go into a rivals’ stadium and expect to come out on top with your only advantage being a better place-kicker and punter.
Kentucky fans also have a strange way of putting their money where there mouth is when it comes to this confidence. Ticket sales at Commonwealth Stadium are down 10,000 from last season, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. The paper also states ticket sales are the lowest in a decade – by nearly 6,000.
Furthermore, any Louisville fan trying to make a friendly-wager on the game with someone on the blue side of things better be ready to give the 14 points. It always makes me laugh when this situation occurs. A fan “confident” in his team’s prospects for victory, but not “confident” enough to give up such a large number of points. This just in: Vegas knows what they are talking about. Those massive hotels and bright lights didn’t build themselves.
Meanwhile on Floyd Street, confidence is at a level thought to be forever gone during the Kragthorpe era. Cards fans are talking BCS again and the talent once lost has now been replenished by a coaching staff that has restored hope. The Cards had their struggles last season that can be attributed to youth and some play-calling that left much to be desired. That youth is a year older, and the offensive coordinator change turned an inept offense into an exciting brand to watch. Expecting that improvement to spill over into this season is not far-fetched.
Louisville’s main issue last season – a porous, undisciplined offensive line – is one of the bright spots this season, according to Strong while speaking to the media this week. Teddy Bridgewater showed how tough he was and improvised like an upperclassman behind an offense line that had the frosh running for his life on a regular basis. The prospects of seeing Teddy able to sit back and survey the field behind a competent line bodes well for the Cards success against Kentucky and the rest of the season.
The skill players on offense are very reminiscent of the high-powered units of John L & Bobby P. DeVante Parker is a diamond in the rough who most fans would agree didn’t see nearly enough balls as he should have last year. Eli Rogers became Bridgewater’s go-to guy last season. A whole off-season to improve has to help that connection. Andrell Smith, Damian Copeland and man, myth and legend Scott Radcliff give much-needed depth and the ability to go 5-wide without taking a step back.
They say if you have 2 QBs, you have zero. That, however, is not true at running back. Dom Brown, Jeremy Wright, and Senorise Perry will provide a 3-headed monster behind Bridgewater. A starter or feature-back will be named before kickoff, but I would expect all 3 to get around the same amount of action assuring the Cards have a ball-carrier with relatively fresh legs at all times. All 3 bring different styles to the table, which will cause problems for opposing defenses.
On top of all that, you have the unit that is in such good hands, everyone just knows it will be solid: the defense. At the sake of boring you (which I probably already have) I won’t go into detail besides saying that you better get on the train or get out of the way. Also, with the defensive backfield of Pryor, Smith, Bushell, and Johnson a year older and wiser, I wouldn’t bank on another T.Y. Hilton debacle happening again this year.
That is why Louisville fans should be confident not only going into Sunday’s rivalry game, but the season as a whole.
That is also why the false sense of confidence steaming from Lexington will be proven just that – false – on Sunday.
Louisville is playing at home with superior talent at nearly every spot on the field, a far superior coaching staff, and a fan base that has been waiting to lay a whoopin’ on their big-blue counterparts since the day Bobby Petrino left for Atlanta. if that isn’t the recipe for a sound victory, I don’t know what is.
Come about 7:30 on Sunday night, that confidence every football fan has going into the season will be gone for UK fans and invigorated for Cards fans.
We all know what the fans clad in blue will be talking about Monday morning: Basketball Season
Take the points: Louisville 34 Kentucky 10
Everyone have a great time & be safe this weekend.