Rivalry week is officially here, and the feeling is ... well I'm not really sure what it is.
Maybe it's because it's still so new or maybe it's because there's still some afterglow from the Notre Dame win, but for me, so far this week hasn't felt like either Kentucky game week or Thanksgiving week. Maybe it's because the two forces are so unfamiliar with one another that they're working to cancel each other out, I don't know.
We broke down the pros and cons of moving the game to the end of the season when the news was originally announced, and I still agree with a lot of what was said back then.
PRO: Big-time college football programs play their arch-rivals in the last game of the regular season
Ohio State/Michigan, Army/Navy, Florida/Florida State, South Carolina/Clemson, Georgia/Georgia Tech; the sport's best rivalries all fall on the final weekend of the regular season for a reason. There will be no more "if we'd played later in the year" smack talk from either side, and that's going to be refreshing. For the foreseeable future, each team will be facing the other with the maximum amount of experience possible for a regular season showdown.
This how college football rivalries are supposed to be.
PRO: Thanksgiving weekend = football
No holiday is more synonymous with a sport than Thanksgiving is with football. Louisville going up against Kentucky two days after Turkey Day is something that gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. My guess is most of you feel the same way.
Some people will complain about the colder temperatures, but I think getting all bundled up and hitting the parking lots outside PJCS with leftover Turkey and stuffing is as close to football Heaven as you can get in this state. I'm already tailgating for November 29, 2014 in my mind.
CON: The basketball and football games being less than a month apart might cause the state to spontaneously combust
On one hand, if Louisville were to ever lose to Kentucky in football, knowing that a shot at redemption in basketball is just around the corner would be comforting. On the other, I think it's good when a rivalry win or loss has some time to fester; it makes it mean more. On a space creature third hand, owning or losing complete rivalry bragging right for an entire year during that magical time between Thanksgiving and New Year's is about as extreme a risk/reward situation as I can think of.
The holidays are going to become exponentially more intense starting in about 15 months.
PRO: There will always be something to play for at the end of the season for both teams
As unpleasant as it may be to imagine, there may come a time when a Louisville football season doesn't go as planned and the mighty Cardinals get knocked around a little bit. Should a Kragthorpian year occur, there will still always be something to look forward to, a reason for the more casual fans to remain invested, an opportunity to end the season on a particularly high note. The same goes for the other side.
CON: Getting national attention will be more difficult
The final two weekends of the regular season are for big-time college football. Louisville and Kentucky moving their rivalry game is a nice statement for the direction that both programs are hoping to keep moving towards, but let's not act like national college football fans (or networks) are going to immediately shift their focus from Florida/Florida State or Georgia/Georgia Tech to the Cards and the Cats.
The series has found a nice niche with Labor Day Weekend. It's a flexible weekend without a lot of top-level competition where the game can be played on Saturday or Sunday and get a national audience on ESPN or ABC. That won't be the case going forward.
For Louisville/Kentucky to compete with the other games on the final weekend of the regular season and earn a national audience, both teams are going to have to achieve some success and sustain it. Kentucky has never gone into the Battle for the Governor's Cup with a national ranking, and Louisville has only done so five times in 19 years (modern era). That has to change.
You want to be a big-time college football rivalry that people want to watch on a big-time college football weekend? You're going to have to earn it, and it's going to take both sides pulling their weight.
I still like that the game is being played on "rivalry weekend," and I love that Kentucky is playing for bowl eligibility and Louisville to keep its shot at the Orange Bowl alive, but I don't know, it still just feels like there's a little something missing. Maybe that's because we're all unfamiliar with the timing, or because UK has lost five games in a row, or because we're already two weeks deep into basketball season.
Anyway, I posed the question to folks on Twitter and received some interesting responses.
@CardChronicle not nearly as much anticipation.— Alex Sorrels (@MahTheMeatloaf) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle I'm a bigger fan of it being the opening game. The summer rivalry banter is seemingly dead.— Adam (@AKelly47) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle don't mind it being holiday wknd. Like it on a traditional FB rivalry week. More "fair" as teams have time to progress.— D.A. Helderman (@DAHelderman) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle Awful. After the ACC season, it feels entirely anti-climactic.— Senator Trill Cruz© (@Pile_of_Derp) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle basketball overlap has definitely removed some luster.— Wes Cobb (@wscii) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle I'm a fan!! It actual has meaning now. More so for UK. It's move on or go home for UK!! We get to be the spoiler!!— Gary Marry #L1C4 (@GaryMarry) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle I'm a Kentucky fan and I always liked the game as the season opener. It's a lot easier to be exited during the summer.— roy mosley (@royboy12) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle With so much going on it's not the center of attention like it was during the summer. Still in the ND afterglow and hoops..— The Cardinal's Beak (@RU4UofL) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle I like it. Gives something to look forward to when normally we'd be finishing with Uconn, Memphis, etc.— #BeatUK (@SouthernCard) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle love it. Turkey day gatherings may be a little more hostile though! The noon kickoff is the only negative— Joshua McAfee (@the_JHAWK) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle I love it. From a pure rivalry standpoint, it's great that both have something meaningful to play for at the end.— Cryptid (@CardsFanTX) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle Kind of like it. Don't like going into that game not knowing what's behind the curtain.— Chris Stone (@ChrisStone01) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle Might be in minority, but I like it. Fans are in football mode in late November more than Labor Day, later favors better team— doctorofdunk (@doctorofdunk) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle great...it should be with all the other big time rivalry games not the first game like non big time schools— Keith Johnson (@Kgreeneyes66) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle I like that it's a part of rivalry week.— Lean Lean (@_Shouldalean) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle stupid because a large number students go home for the entire weekend.— Kevin Imhof (@Imhof42) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle Having it late in the season is fine but I just wish they'd not play their biggest rivalries over student breaks. Bball too.— Jason Wyrick (@jwy49) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle I like it at the end of season, but had to turn down tix for family obligations. Torn.— Jenny Wittenauer (@JLynnWitty) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle its perfect. Also, if UK is ever any good at football, the rivalry can become a real national story— Andrew Phelps (@dewyulsc) November 25, 2014
@CardChronicle I root for Kentucky so we are accustomed to Thanksgiving weekend losses, this one will just have some extra sting to it.— DrewFrog (@DrewLog) November 25, 2014
I'll fully admit that I hadn't even considered the concern over students having to return home for the holidays and being forced to give up their tickets. I'm interested to see what that section looks like on Saturday afternoon.
Overall, though, I was a bit (pleasantly) surprised that the majority opinion seemed to be positive. There are certainly good and bad elements at play here, but the fact of the matter is that this is going to be the weekend the rivalry is played on for the foreseeable future, so it's time to start getting used to it.