LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When Kentucky and Alabama play tonight in Commonwealth Stadium, it will be only their 15th meeting since the end of World War II.
And for the Wildcats, that's a good thing. Alabama owns a better winning percentage against UK (.921) than any other NCAA Division I-A opponent. The Wildcats beat Alabama 6-0 in 1922, then didn't beat the Crimson Tide again for 75 years, though there was a tie thrown in.
Alabama's series domination is like nothing you'll find in the Southeastern Conference record books -- unless you look at UK's series records in basketball.
In the modern series, the teams play back-to-back seasons, then take a four-year break. Even so, the last time UK faced an Alabama team that had lost a game was back in 2004. Counting tonight, the Crimson Tide's cumulative season record in its past three meetings with Kentucky is 14-0. The 39th meeting between the teams will be the 19th in which Alabama has an unbeaten record.
Nobody expects that this will be the year Kentucky turns the Tide.
Alabama is the class of college football, the two-time defending national champion, a 27 1/2-point favorite.
Mark Stoops didn't create this miserable history. He just walked into it. And he understands the first step toward erasing it is to accept the reality of the situation, then play your tail off anyway.
In three straight games, he's managed to get his first UK team to do just that. It battled Louisville to a 27-13 loss. It didn't execute well offensively, but scored more points on the Cardinals than any team this season even on a bad offensive day. It struggled against a Florida team that was a nightmare matchup, but still fared better than in recent history. At South Carolina, it lost by one touchdown and outplayed the Gamecocks in the second half after falling behind 21-0.
"I just hope we continue to understand that we can win these games," Stoops said this week. "You know, we ‑‑ it's not just me up here talking about that. If we truly believe, if we go about our business; if we work the right way; if we prepare the right way and execute and make plays when the game is on the line ‑‑ we had every opportunity to win that (South Carolina) game and that's a very good team, very well-coached and we have a lot of respect for them. But had we done some things right, we could win that game. And that's taking nothing away from them, because I know every coach can say that. Everybody can say they always do things better; we all feel that way. But there were plays on the line we can execute much better, and a lot of it's mental. We mentally need to be stronger and make plays and understand and have a better awareness about us when we are on the field, because the game changes all the time, every play."
Kentucky can point to its own madness under the lights in Commonwealth Stadium. It was a night game when the Wildcats found Stevie Johnson open in the end zone to knock off No. 9 Louisville in 2007. The same setup several weeks later when the Wildcats knocked off No. 1-ranked LSU.
That UK team was a veteran group with more talent than Stoops has at his disposal. But Stoops likes the attitude his team has had in practice this week -- unlike last week's run-up to the South Carolina game. He likes the way Jalen Whitlow seems to be improving at quarterback.
Stoops said his team seems excited to play Alabama.
"They do," he said. "It's no secret. I've told you guys over and over again that I thought overall this team really has a good attitude and comes every day and they're fun to coach."
Still, there's not much about facing a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team that is fun. They line up with as much talent as any team in America, and if a player goes down, a 4-star or 5-star backup comes in. And perhaps most difficult of all, Alabama doesn't need to rely on a set style. If you have success against them offensively -- like Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel did -- they're good enough to win a shootout. Otherwise, they grind you and let their superior talent and numbers do its inexorable work.
"They execute so well," Stoops said. "They can be as multiple as they want to be on both sides of the ball and they can just line up and use great technique and play good football -- old-fashioned football."
The history in this series backs that up. But on this night, Stoops said, UK will try to major in contemporary football, not in history.
"Obviously we know how talented this team is and how well-coached they are," Stoops said. "It's going to be a real tough challenge, but again, we'll measure (success) by how we play, how we compete and go from there."