THE RIVALRY between Kentucky and Louisville is different from almost any other in college football, and not just because the two teams have faced off only 19 times. When the series was renewed in 1994—it had been discontinued in 1924 after the Wildcats won the first six games by a combined score of 220-0—-representatives from both schools agreed that, rather than playing at the end of the year as many in-state rivals do, they would instead meet on the first weekend of the season. And thanks to the unique Sunday afternoon time slot the teams have occupied since 2002, it became a staple of ESPN's opening-weekend coverage, providing both teams with invaluable national exposure.
But this year the rivalry has taken a bitter turn. This Saturday's game, to be played at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, will be the third of the season for both teams. The change is the result of a deal forced on Louisville by Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart and coach Rich Brooks, who refused to renew the series unless they were given the option to push back the date of the games in Lexington. It's hardly a secret that Brooks, who is 0-4 in the series and was on the losing end of a 59--28 score a year ago, was tired of seeing his team pounded on opening day. He and Barnhart have insisted that they wanted the schedule change so the Wildcats would have more time to prepare for the Cardinals.
Eventually the series was renewed through 2009, but not without some grousing from Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who points out that this year's game has been relegated to ESPN Classic, which reaches only about two thirds of the 93 million households that get ESPN. That's a shame, because this year's matchup of undefeated teams promises to be one of the most competitive in recent memory, featuring a showdown between two of the nation's top quarterbacks. Louisville's Brian Brohm has thrown for 776 yards and nine touchdowns in his first two games, while Kentucky's André Woodson, a second-team All-SEC pick last fall, has passed for 468 yards and five touchdowns. And considering that the Cardinals' defense gave up 555 yards of total offense in a 58-42 win over Middle Tennessee last Thursday, the Wildcats have an excellent chance to give Brooks his first victory.