I like Steve Kragthorpe. I'm finding that having a coach you can get behind without feeling kind of slimy agrees with me.
Because I enjoy this new-found cleanliness so much, I'm going to pass along a well-researched, heartfelt piece of advice for Coach K as he heads to Lexington for the first time: Win.
Doesn't matter if it's by four points or 40 points, you need to win this game.
I'm fairly certain that Koach hasn't been reading the message boards or had the words of average Cardinal fans in his ear all week, well I have, and it hasn't been pretty.
I'll spare you the details Koach, but suffice it to say that since last Thursday's debacle people have been inventing things to bitch about. The good news is that this is an issue with a very achievable solution.
Do you know how much fans care about a coach's injury policy when their team is 3-0, ranked in the top ten, and coming off of a big win over a hated rival? Do you want to find out? Win.
The common belief in the media is that there is an inordinate amount of pressure on Rich Brooks to deliver a victory over Louisville because of the little fact that he has yet to do so in four years. While this may be true, I'd argue that the pressure is exceedingly higher on the new guy.
Brooks can lose this game and still go 5-3 or 4-4 with a big upset in the SEC, and with a solid showing in a respectable bowl game his season will still be considered a success. About five minutes after the final whistle blows on Saturday, Kentucky fans will resign themselves to the belief that everything is going to be different now that the Brohm era has come to a close, and will allow a win over Arkansas or South Carolina to quench their thirst for red domination.
Kragthorpe loses, and anything short of a conference title and a win over a major program in a BCS bowl will assure him of the most tumultuous offseason of his coaching career.
There will come a time when losing a game to Kentucky will be understandable, if not acceptable, but that time is not now. Louisville's players are faster, stronger and more skilled than UK's, not to mention that one of them is a surefire top ten pick who spurned millions for one last shot at a national championship.
And that's the thing, legitimate talk about a national title has been on the table since Kragthorpe's first day. One win and one announcement in January assured that expectations were going to be far different for this season than any other in Cardinal football history.
For the first time in this program's history the players, fans and even coaches didn't spend much time talking about conference championships or BCS bowl appearances this offseason. It's been done now. Even Brian "we're just gonna take it one day at a time" Brohm himself spoke openly over the summer about his desire to take his team to the BCS title game.
So what happens to the psyche of a team when those sort of lofty expectations are completely demolished three weeks into a season? Don't want to find out? Win.
But the ramifications of Saturday's game extend far past just this season.
With the help of its new-found status, Louisville has been able to keep the local talent that used to migrate to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Tennessee or Kentucky in town. Four of the last seven Kentucky "Mr. Footballs" have wound up wearing Cardinal red, and it's a safe bet that the next seven or eight will be tuned in to the battle for the Commonwealth on Saturday...assuming they have ESPN Classic.
This is the most anticipated U of L/UK game since the series resumed in 1994 because Kentucky's fan base dwarfs Louisville's, and Big Blue Nation thinks it has a quality team for the first time in quite a while. Whether or not they're quality enough to knock off the Cards for just the second time in nine years won't be known for three days, but if they are I'd go so far as to say the loss will be a bigger setback to the Cardinal program than that game in New Jersey a year ago (only because Louisville still ended up winning the Big East and playing in the Orange Bowl).
I'm not sure Kragthorpe fully understands the type of hornet's nest he's going to be leading his team into on Saturday. Kentucky has built this game up in the same way Louisville built the Florida State game up in 2002, but they don't have two losses to show for it. And even if this game wasn't being more hyped than in previous years, it's not like the task would be any less daunting for him, hell Petrino was two yards away from being on the brink of defeat in Commonwealth two years ago and the talent gap in 2005 was far wider than it is right now.
You'll never hear a coach at any level admit it, but taking over a team coming off of a big season with the potential to win a championship - for lack of a better word - sucks. You win the national title and you're a hero, you fall just short of the game's top prize and you've done a solid job, anything else and replacement talk dominates the light conversation during basketball season. Still, in recent years guys like Larry Coker, Bret Bielema and Charlie Weiss have all proven that new staffs are no excuse for failure when inheriting experienced talent.
Two weeks into his first season as Louisville's front man, Steve Kragthorpe has already been criticized for everything from his basic coaching philosophies to his sideline mannerisms. In the zany world of modern college football, there's only one absolute way to subdue the fears of an irresolute fan base or team.
Kragthorpe's very first road game is one that he cannot afford to lose.