A year ago, this would have been unbelievable.
One team is ranked 15th in the CFP rankings, looking to complete a nine-win regular season and wrap up a good or perhaps even great New Year’s Day bowl game. The other has fired its athletic director and coach and has absolutely limped through a lame-duck season of uncompetitive football.
Actually, that part might not have been unthinkable. It’s just that in recent years, the shoe has generally been on the other foot. Louisville has played hopeless Kentucky teams fighting to regain any sense of momentum. Louisville has produced big-time teams and even a Heisman QB. But that is not 2018.
The Kentucky Wildcats are a 17-point favorite to beat U of L Saturday night at Cardinals Stadium (which has ceased being Papa John’s Cardinals Stadium in yet another bizarre twist) to end the 2018 regular season. Can Kentucky handle success?
To say that this season has been a disaster for Louisville is probably understating its awfulness. The Cardinals can claim wins over FCS Indiana State and a 2-9 Western Kentucky team from Conference USA. Not only has U of L struggled, but their defense has been pathetic, allowing 43 points per game, including over 50 points in each of the Cardinals’ last four games.
The last P5 team that Louisville beat was… Kentucky, a year ago in Lexington. But Lamar Jackson, to paraphrase a Louisville coach from another sport, isn’t walking through that door.
Louisville is led by QBs Juwan Pass, who has throws for 1,960 yards, but only eight touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Mobile QB Malik Cunningham is UofL’s leading rusher, with a meager 408 rushing yards for the season. Senior wideout Jaylen Smith leads the Cardinals with 519 receiving yards.
Louisville’s defense has allowed 472.8 yards per game, about 150 yards more than Kentucky has allowed. The Cardinals have 10 sacks for the season, with no playing having more than two, while the Cardinals have allowed 41 sacks.
Kentucky struggled through a 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee in last week’s Senior Day game. Benny Snell surpassed 100 rushing yards for the 17th time in his career, and he comes into the Louisville game 207 yards shy of Sonny Collins’s UK rushing record.
Kentucky’s defense has struggled at times down the season’s stretch, but this Louisville offense is not one of the more dangerous groups the Wildcats have faced. Perhaps the memory of Kentucky’s 24-7 loss at Tennessee will prevent a reoccurrence of the same type of brutal football that could lead to a loss.
At the end of the day, while Kentucky is nowhere near midseason form, Louisville might struggle to beat a good high school team.
Kentucky 45, Louisville 17
Here’s our weekly guess at the SEC’s other action (written before Thursday night’s Egg Bowl)
Mississippi State 38, Ole Miss 20
Missouri 45, Arkansas 10
Florida 31, Florida State 20
Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 17
Alabama 31, Auburn 14
Vanderbilt 18, Tennessee 17
Clemson 45, South Carolina 6
LSU 28, Texas A&M 20
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written seven books, with the eighth to come in 2019. His most recent, "The Immaculate Inning," was released in February 2018 and can be ordered on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.