Weighing Up The Governor’s Cup

Photo by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune The Cardinals defeated the Wildcats 27-13 in Lexington during the 2013 Governor’s Cup.

The Cardinals defeated the Wildcats 27-13 in Lexington during the 2013 Governor’s Cup.

Louisville’s 2014 football season is going to be ripe with change, so much so that an alteration which would be the single biggest piece of news in any other recent year has almost become an afterthought.

Since the renewal of the rivalry series in 1994, talk of the Louisville/Kentucky game has dominated the summer college football conversation around these parts. Even in years where the Cards and Cats haven’t met in the season’s opening weekend, less-than-stellar week one and week two opponents have made the Battle for the Governor’s Cup the primary focus in July and August.

That isn’t the case anymore, as the series will now occupy a permanent spot at the end of the regular season beginning this November. As with most anything else, there are some good things about this change, and some less good things about this.

Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t preface this breakdown of pros and cons by saying that in my ideal world, the game would still be played as the season opener each and every year. I think it captivates the Commonwealth during the dead of summer and is still the best showcase opportunity for two programs that exist below the first tier of the college football hierarchy.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the good and the bad of the new Louisville/Kentucky rivalry series.

PRO: Big-time college football programs play their archrivals in the last game of the regular season

Ohio State/Michigan, Army/Navy, Florida/Florida State, South Carolina/Clemson, Georgia/Georgia Tech: the sport’s best rivalries all fall on the final weekend of the regular season for a reason. There will be no more “if we’d played later in the year” smack talk from either side, and that’s going to be refreshing. For the foreseeable future, each team will be facing the other with the maximum amount of experience possible for a regular-season showdown.

This is how college football rivalries are supposed to be.

CON: It doesn’t fit perfectly with Louisville’s move to the ACC

Beating Kentucky is a big deal, but it’s never going to be on par with playing for a conference title or a spot in a BCS game.

If Louisville locks up an ACC divisional title in the 11th game of the season, that’s when playing UK in the regular season finale is going to become inconvenient. The most obvious concern is a key player or some key players being injured the week before a more important game. The second is the emotional toll that not just the game but the entire week takes out of you. It’s not an ideal scenario heading into what would be at least an equally emotional week and game.

PRO: Thanksgiving weekend = football

No holiday is more synonymous with a sport than Thanksgiving is with football. Louisville going up against Kentucky two days after Turkey Day is something that gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. My guess is most of you feel the same way.

Some people will complain about the colder temperatures, but I think getting all bundled up and hitting the parking lots outside PJCS with leftover turkey and stuffing is as close to football heaven as you can get in this state.

CON: The basketball and football games being less than a month apart might cause the state to spontaneously combust

This year’s football (Nov. 29) and basketball (Dec. 27) games will be played less than a month apart. The holiday season in the Commonwealth just got exponentially more intense.

PRO: There will always be something to play for at the end of the season for both teams

As unpleasant as it may be to imagine for UofL fans, there may come a time when a Louisville football season doesn’t go as planned and the mighty Cardinals get knocked around a little bit. Should a Kragthorpian year occur, there will still always be something to look forward to, a reason for the more casual fans to remain invested and an opportunity to end the season on a high note. The same goes for the other side.

PRO: The third week game will finally be gone

Playing the game in the first week versus playing it on the last week is a legitimate debate. Putting the third week game up against either of those dates is not.

Recent years when the game has been played on the third week have been miserable. I think both sides have pretty much come to an agreement on that. Not only did it take away from the summer hype that is present in years when the game was the season opener, but it also created all of those annoying “how hard is it not to look ahead?” storylines…and it also created some legitimate looking ahead.

I don’t think anyone will miss the game being played in mid-September.

CON: Getting national attention will be more difficult

The final two weekends of the regular season are for big-time college football. Louisville and Kentucky moving their rivalry game is a nice statement for the direction that both programs are hoping to keep moving towards, but let’s not act like national college football fans (or networks) are going to immediately shift their focus from Florida/Florida State or Georgia/Georgia Tech to the Cards and the Cats.

The series had found a nice niche with Labor Day Weekend. It’s a flexible weekend without a lot of top-level competition where the game can be played on Saturday or Sunday and get a national audience on ESPN or ABC. That won’t be the case going forward.

For Louisville/Kentucky to compete with the other games on the final weekend of the regular season and earn a national audience, both teams are going to have to achieve some success and sustain it. Kentucky has never gone into the Battle for the Governor’s Cup with a national ranking, and Louisville has only done so five times in 19 years (modern era). That has to change.

You want to be a big-time college football rivalry that people want to watch on a big-time college football weekend? You’re going to have to earn it, and it’s going to take both sides pulling their weight.

Photo by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune