"And, like a man to double business bound, I stand in pause where I shall first begin." - William Shakespeare (Claudius, speaking in Hamlet)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When the University of Kentucky begins its football season against Western Kentucky Saturday night in Nashville, the drama will far outstrip the talent of the participants.
Truth be told, both programs are in a building stage. Both have significant unknowns. But the battle for that first cornerstone victory for their first-year coaches should be something to see. The stakes are, without question, significant.
Kentucky's Mark Stoops, to his credit, did not try to downplay it.
"I think it is important," Stoops said when asked about the significance of getting off to the right start. "I've not shied away from that question. I think it's very important. There's a lot of excitement around our program and around the state, and nationally really. It's time for us to go out and prove it and see what we're all about. I'm excited, and I think our team will be as well."
Bobby Petrino's is a tale worthy of Shakespeare. Intrigue, sex, disgrace, return. The Western Kentucky coach has hit for the psychological cycle in the past year. But now he returns with two games that could fully restore his football reputation. His Hilltoppers face Kentucky in the opener. They're at Tennessee in Week 2.
Allow, for a moment, your imagination to run wild (though it doesn't have to run too wild) and think about what would happen if he won those two games.
Petrino's is the storyline of the game, the one with the most relevance nationally. Kentucky passed on Petrino. Didn't even interview him. Tennessee took a pass. No interview. Instead, Tennessee went after Louisville's Charlie Strong and didn't get him, either.
If he opened the season 2-0, his agent might be the busiest man in college football. If he doesn't, he'll have a missed a chance to make a statement. His team could go on to a great Sun Belt season, but there's something about beating SEC teams, even rebuilding ones, that sticks with you. Stoops, at UK, has bigger games ahead, and he has an entire recruiting class -- ranked as the best in school history -- to fall back on. For Petrino, there are big games, but none like these first two.
Not that Petrino will entertain any of that talk right now. He's 4-1 against Kentucky. He's unbeaten in season openers. He doesn't want to talk about that stuff, either.
"It's our team, it's our players that we have right now," Petrino said. "We have to get ready."
On the field, the unknowns should add to the drama. Kentucky hasn't even announced a starting quarterback, hoping to keep Petrino guessing.
He'll have a bit of a logistical advantage having been a head coach before, and having many old associates in place on his staff. Still, he's never coached these players, so that advantage may be overstated.
At UK, we've yet to see how the Wildcats will operate under Stoops. Neal Brown will handle the offensive duties, and he's proved himself in stops at Texas Tech and Troy. They've moved the ball wherever he's been. He is painfully inexperienced at wide receiver, but they're going to get their chances. He wants to run 75 plays a game. UK may put the ball in the air 40-50 of those.
The game may well come down to mistakes. Who makes the fewest, or who can create turnovers. For Western, defensive playmakers like Andrew Jackson at linebacker and Jonathan Dowling at safety could be difference makers if they can come up with a takeaway or two.
Jackson has been stirring this rivalry up for three years. UK players are still smarting from WKU's lengthy Commonwealth Stadium celebration a year ago. The year before that, Jackson leaned back to an ESPN camera and said, "They s'posed to be SEC!"
This year, Jackson told reporters, "I ain't worried about UK. I don't even care nothing about 'em. We're going to handle them Saturday, so y'all just be ready for that. They've got a new coach that's going to try to come around and trick you and four-wide stuff, try to trick us up. But we're just going to hit 'em in the mouth and get it over with."
We'll see. For a game between unranked opponents, this one is popping with story lines. It may not be Shakespeare, but it won't be boring.
Wednesday, March 5 2014 8:53 AM EST2014-03-05 13:53:25 GMT
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