It’s all-or-nothing, do-or-die for Kentucky when Louisville comes to town Saturday.
As usual, pride and bragging rights are both at stake in this emotional rivalry, but the Wildcats have something even more intense on the line: bowl eligibility.
Because they lost five straight games, including a winnable matchup against Vanderbilt, the 5-6 Wildcats have put themselves in a high-pressure situation. Last season, Louisville won by four points; this year, the Cardinals are a four-point favorite.
Bowl eligibility would certainly tell frustrated Kentucky fans that the program is making steady progress in turning things around.
“We have a lot riding on it, as you know. Not only in state and with recruiting and things like that, but more importantly just to build our program and get this sixth victory,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday in his weekly press conference. “We put ourselves in this position by a few miscues late in the season, with the Vandy game in particular, so it is what it is.
“Now we need to go out and play well in this game. It always has importance; I think it’s very important to us this year.”
Stoops acknowledged that the Wildcats are a “work in progress,” but he also added, “there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re getting better.”
Beating Louisville would also be huge forKentucky’s future, because the programs often compete for in-state recruits.
Stoops said one of the turning points for in-state recruiting came a few years ago when the Wildcats landed junior defensive end Jason Hatcher. The 4-star Louisville, Ky., native flipped his commitment from Southern California to Kentucky.
Stoops is hopeful that a win against Louisville would make a statement to recruits who could be on the fence.
“From a recruiting point of view, it was very important. As you know, we work extremely hard at recruiting,” Stoops said. “As you go through the course of this season, it’s frustrating because you want these recruits to come in and make a difference immediately. But Jason’s one guy in that first class that was an impact guy and he’s doing some very good things.
“Now we need a whole bunch more. But we’ve made in-state recruiting priority No. 1, and he kind of set the tone for that.”