BOZICH | Louisville can do for WKU football what Kentucky once d - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville can do for WKU football what Kentucky once did for U of L

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Western Kentucky and Louisville have not played in football since 1998. Western Kentucky and Louisville have not played in football since 1998.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – College football changed in this state 22 years ago.

C.M. Newton, athletic director at the University of Kentucky, and coach Bill Curry looked past what was best for UK and did something that was best for football in this state:

They agreed to an annual series with Louisville. UK arranged for the first four games to be played in Lexington, making an initial trip to Louisville when Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium opened in 1998.

Driven to compete, U of L football kept getting better and better and better, surging into Orange and Sugar bowls as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference. An annual series with an in-state rival was an important part of the program's growth. Ask Howard Schnellenberger.

Something else happened during that 1998 season: Louisville played Western Kentucky for the 31st and final time. The Cardinals, coached by John L. Smith, won 63-34.

Somehow, the programs have not played again.

Louisville can do for WKU what Kentucky did for U of L: Grant an ambitious and successful in-state rival a football series and platform.

I understand that other scheduling demands make an annual WKU-U of L series an unlikely development.

Louisville is already playing Kentucky. The Cardinals, like every Power Five conference program, would always prefer to have seven home games. Negotiating give and take would be required to make this work.

But WKU has made something work with Indiana and Vanderbilt. The Commodores will visit Bowling Green this season. WKU is making a 2016 trip to defending national champion Alabama, one season after making one to Louisiana State. WKU coach Jeff Brohm, a Louisville alum, schedules without fear.

Now that the Kentucky game has been moved to the end of Louisville’s schedule, wouldn’t it be a delightfully energetic way to open the football season by matching the Hilltoppers against the Cardinals in Week One?

Sure, it would.

Especially this season, with Louisville expecting to thunder back into the Top 25 – the same Associated Press Top 25 where Brohm’s 12-2 team finished last season. (Translation: According to the rankings, WKU was the unofficial Kentucky state champion last season.)

“The fact that established programs that have won national championships, like Southern Cal, UCLA, Texas, Texas A&M, Auburn, Penn State, they weren’t ranked last year and Western Kentucky was, I think it just validates what a terrific job Jeff Brohm’s done and how far our program has come,” WKU athletic director Todd Stewart said.

Stewart, Brohm and new WKU basketball coach Rick Stansbury visited Louisville Monday, shaking hands and speaking to several hundred Hilltoppers’ fans at Hunting Creek Country Club.

As always when WKU folks assemble, there is talk of Louisville and Kentucky. Heck, there were even U of L and UK items in a silent auction at the event.

UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart did WKU a solid and booked a four-year series against WKU. It ended in 2013 in Nashville with a WKU victory that resulted in the programs splitting the four games. A UK-WKU basketball series has always been a non-starter. (Stansbury, for the record, would like to play Kentucky and Louisville – as any WKU basketball coach would.)

Louisville has played WKU in basketball the last eight seasons, but the programs will not play in 2016-17. Stewart said that U of L coach Rick Pitino asked for a break in the series. U of L will play Eastern Kentucky, coached by Dan McHale, a Pitino protégé.

But WKU-U of L football?

That’s a series that Stewart and Brohm said the schools have been discussing for many months.

Odds are they’ll make a deal. Odds are it won’t become an annual series. Odds are that fans of both programs would be ecstatic to see something like this:

A three-game series.

Two games at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. One game at Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans and the spot where U of L won its Music City Bowl against Texas A&M last December.

“We’ve had some really good discussions with (U of L athletic director) Tom Jurich and (his top assistant) Kevin Miller,” Stewart said.

“I’m optimistic that’s going to get done,” Brohm said. “We obviously would love the opportunity to have a team the caliber of Louisville on the schedule. We would definitely cherish that opportunity.”

It would be a way for Louisville to do something for Western Kentucky football, the way that Kentucky did something for Louisville football 22 years ago.

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