It’s now or never against in-state rival

Column by Chris DeLottell

It made you want to puke.

You walked around the Wildcat Den, site of the weekly UK football press conference, and listened to the five UK players drone on about this week’s game against Louisville being just another game. You heard Keenan Burton say that it’s just the next game on the schedule. Jacob Tamme pointed out that it’s only “step 3” of the season.

Eventually, you gave up, grabbed some more potato salad from the media buffet and waited for the entire charade to be over. You waited for head coach Rich Brooks, expecting him to spew the same maddening company line about this week’s game having no extra importance. You braced yourself and grabbed a barf bag.

But then a funny thing happened. Before you could toss your cookies (and potato salad), Brooks tossed the company line farther than an Andre Woodson to Keenan Burton fly pattern touchdown.

“I’ve been honest with my team forever,” Brooks said, “and to make them think this is just another week is silly, because it’s not. It’s a huge game.”

Hearing that settles your stomach better than Pepto-Bismol because this is not just another week. Unlike last season, when the primary goal was simply to reach six victories and go to a bowl, the standards by which this season will be judged are different.

“This is clearly the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Brooks said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.”

And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that with that level of talent comes an increased level of expectations. Not expectations that the Cats will be competitive, or that they will hold their own or that they will do enough to get back to the postseason. Expectations that UK will win games against elite competition. Expectations that UK will take back a stake in the in-state rivalry.

Expectations that UK will beat Louisville.

Does that mean that a Cardinal win would ruin the Cats’ season? Of course not. Louisville is favored in Las Vegas by more than a touchdown, and a win by Brian Brohm and Co. would shock nobody. But a Louisville win on Saturday would make those of us in Lexington wonder if UK can expect ever again to win a game in the series.

Brooks has his best team, Louisville has a first-year coach and doormat defense, and the game is at Commonwealth Stadium. It’s last round-up time for the triumvirate of Woodson, Burton and running back Rafael Little. And the stakes are oh so high.

“It’s really one of the first times that we can be a player on the national scene,” Brooks said. “Louisville has been a player on the national scene for three or four years now, and rightfully so.”

A win would likely put the Cats in the top 25, or at least in the discussion for national recognition. But it would do more than that. It would serve as a continuation of the belief that Brooks’ program is a shooting rocket. It would guarantee sellouts all fall at the big stadium by BCTC. It would escalate the already record-high excitement about this football program on campus.

And it would make those red-and-black-clad folks in the Derby City want to puke.

Chris DeLotell is an education senior. E-mail [email protected].