The series, renewed in 1994, was designed to elevate the game of football in a Commonwealth, renowned for its basketball. Played as the season opener until 2007, the game steadily grew in popularity, becoming a staple during on ESPN on the season's first weekend.
But Louisville started winning too many games – 7 in 8 years, to be exact, so Kentucky made a change, moving the game from its traditional season-opening slot to the third week every other year when the game is played in Lexington.
That decision has worked out well for the Wildcats, who have won the past four games, including the two games played in Lexington in '07 and '09 the third week of the season. But that success has come at the expense of lost national visibility for the rivalry. Instead of headlining on ESPN, this year's game has been relegated to ESPNU, a network whose reach pales in comparison to the four-letter sports network giant.
"I'm just happy we're playing," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "It's been a great rivalry, an exciting rivalry, regardless of when we play. It's an important game for both [programs]. When we play it the third [week] we get two games [under our belt] and they get two games. It hasn't changed how exciting the game has been."
After dominating the series from 1999-2006, Louisville hasn't beaten Kentucky since Bobby Petrino's final team blew out the Wildcats 56-28 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium to open the '06 season. Despite being a heavy underdog, Strong's first team fell just short last season against the Wildcats, 23-17. Strong's young team, which lost 25 seniors and 14 starters from last year's Beef O'Brady's Bowl championship team, faces another uphill battle against Kentucky this season. Louisville will have a new quarterback under center, four new offensive line starters and several unproven players in the secondary.
"I've been in a lot of rival games and they're all the same," Strong said. "Everybody wants to win and prepares to win the game. The fans are excited, and everyone is excited."