Louisville football has things that Kentucky wants -- and it's not just the Governor's Cup.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB ) – Louisville has what Kentucky wants – and I'm not talking about the Governor's Cup trophy.
I'm talking about a five-bar connection to the national college football conversation. I'm talking about justified swagger. I'm talking about mattering enough that people are eager to take shots at the Cards (see schedule and thoughts of contending for the national title for details).
I'm talking about Louisville's place in the college football universe. That perch at Number 7 in the latest Associated Press college football poll, right between mighty Texas A&M and formidable Louisiana State.
Kentucky hasn't been ranked that high in the AP poll since January, 1978.
I'm talking about the Cardinals' push to appear in another Bowl Championship Series game. It would be their third. They've won both the Orange and Sugar bowls during the BCS era, and they'd love to upgrade their credentials this season.
Life in the Southeastern Conference has ensured that Kentucky does not have those experiences on its resume.
I'm talking about Teddy Bridgewater, a quarterback who does not need a campaign or poster to sit in the top five of the Heisman Trophy race this season. All Bridgewater needs to do is keep doing what he's doing. America knows his name – and game.
Kentucky had a Teddy Bridgewater. His name was Tim Couch. He was invited to New York City. But that was 1998.
I'm talking about Louisville trying to win its fourth straight game against an SEC opponent. Kentucky in 2011. Kentucky in 2012. Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Favored by 14 in Commonwealth Stadium Saturday.
Kentucky has not won four consecutive games against SEC opponents since 1977.
There's more. Bridgewater's supporting cast. The head coach (Charlie Strong) who turned down what most college football people believed was a better job at Tennessee. The spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference starting next season.
But that can serve as the Cliff's Notes version of the things Louisville has that Kentucky would love to have.
Credit Kentucky. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart and the fervent fan base are determined to flip the script – at least flip it back to how it read in 2009 when the Wildcats were finishing their fourth consecutive winning season and they were in the middle of a four-game winning streak against the Cardinals. Kentucky has had the upper hand before. Kentucky can have the upper hand again.
Kentucky has some advantages in this tug of war, too. The Wildcats seem determined to flex them. They can recruit to the SEC. They play in a larger stadium. Their fan base has been amazingly hardy even though a string of lean times. They're committed to upgrading facilities.
That is why Mark Stoops is here – to try to make some of the upgrades at Kentucky that Charlie Strong has made at Louisville.
It's a considerably different challenge. Getting to a BCS game while traveling through the SEC hasn't been the same as traveling through the Big East, the American Athletic Conference or the ACC.
Ask South Carolina. Or Ole Miss. Or Vanderbilt. Or Mississippi State.
But Saturday is not the day for Kentucky to worry about celebrating a BCS moment or a bowl game of any flavor. Saturday is a day for Kentucky to take a snapshot that measures the gap between the programs.
The flashing lights suggest the gap is considerable. The Cards are more dynamic at most positions. The Cards have collected more depth because this is Charlie Strong's fourth season on the job.
The Cards have Bridgewater, a guy that nearly everybody believes will be the first quarterback taken in the 2014 NFL Draft and might be the first overall selection.
The Cards have a string of things that Kentucky wants – and not just the Governor's Cup trophy.