With in-state standouts like Tim Couch (1995 Kentucky Mr. Football), Derek Homer (1994 Kentucky Mr. Football), Craig Yeast and Kio Sandford, the Wildcats won back-to-back victories in 1997 and 1998, the only time since the series' renewal the Cats have won consecutitive games.
But since a 68-34 pasting by Couch, Yeast and Homer in '98, Louisville not only has dominated the recent series, winning four of the past five contests, they've increasingly done it with superior in-state talent on their roster.
Chris Redman, Lavell Boyd and Frank Moruea, all Kentucky high school products, helped Louisville to its first of three consecutitive wins in the series with a 56-28 pasting of the Wildcats in Lexington in 1999. Since then, U of L has virtually owned the series, dropping just one game, a 22-17 upset in 2002, during the past five seasons. In the process, the state's top players have been gravitating to the Louisville side ever since.
Jones will play
important role this Sunday
While Shelton and Jones both transferred from Florida State and Tennessee, respectively, the Cardinals won heated recruiting battles with Kentucky each of the past two years for the services of both Bush and Brohm.
And while Shelton is sure to see the ball plenty this weekend, especially after last season's dominating performance against his hometown team, Bush will be counted on to make big plays on both sides of the ball for the Cardinals. At 6'3, 250-pounds, Bush, who was named to the All-C-USA Freshman team last season after rushing for 503 yards and six touchdowns, should be primed for a breakout performance this season.
Bush and Brohm were the state's most
coveted prospects the past two years
Another former Mr. Football who figures to play a prominent role Sunday is the 6'0, 190-pound Jones. Jones, who sat out last season after transferring from Tennessee, will likely start at wide receiver for Louisville in the opener in addition to his punt return duties. A tough and physical receiver who has proven difficult to tackle during practice, Jones should help make an already dangerous receiving corp even better, especially against a Kentucky defense that finished the 2003 season near the bottom of the SEC standings.
Jones, who originally verbally committed to Kentucky before NCAA violations were uncovered during Hal Mumme's tenure, never made it to Lexington, instead landing at Louisville after his troubled stint in Knoxville came to an end following the 2002 season. Now, though, Jones appears to have those problems behind him and looks ready to make a big impact in the opener.
Shelton, the star of last season's game, missed three games toward the end of the 2003 season because of a neck injury sufferred during the first half against TCU. Despite the missed time, the 6'3, 245-pound junior still earned Third team All-Conference USA honors after rushing for 790 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Now fully recovered from that injury, Shelton appears to be running better than ever and figures to present quite a challenge for a UK defensive front that allowed 187 yards rushing per game game last season.
But perhaps the biggest coup for Louisville was signing the 6'3, 200-pound Brohm. One of the most celebrated quarterbacks ever produced in the commonwealth, Brohm will see action against Kentucky as Stefan LeFors backup this Sunday.
Last season's Kentucky Mr. Football, Brohm led Louisville Trinity to three straight Class 4A state titles before choosing the Cardinals over Kentucky, Notre Dame and Tennessee.
Besides Bush, Shelton, Jones and Brohm, five other Kentucky high school products will figure prominently in the games outcome, as Bobby and Travis Leffew (Boyle County), safety J.T. Haskins (Lexington), tight end Adam McCualey (Louisville) and center Will Rabatin (Louisville) are each expected to start against the Wildcats.
And while the Wildcats carry the state's flagship designation, it will be Louisville who has the state's top prospects on their side this Sunday.