Congratulations to the University of Louisville Cardinals on their victory over the University of Florida Gators in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. For everyone watching the game, the Cards left no doubt over who was the superior team. And even though the final score was 33-23, it was never really that close. From the first play interception returned for a touchdown, the UL was in control over one of the great programs of the SEC. Again, congrats to Coach Charlie Strong and QB Teddy Bridgewater on a great, great win.
All that being said, the pressure is on in Lexington. New Coach Mark Stoops has his work cut out for him. Not only does he have to resurrect a program coming off a dreadful 2-10 season, he has to compete in the ultra competitive SEC and on top of that, the program right up the road has poised itself as a legitimate college football power. With Louisville’s move to the ACC and with the Sugar Bowl win under its belt, the gap between the Cards and the Cats on the gridiron is as wide as it’s ever been and not in the favor of the boys in Blue. The stakes have gotten higher for Coach Stoops and for AD Mitch Barnhart. A misstep at this juncture will regulate Kentucky as a college football also-ran for years to come.
So far, Stoops has hit all the right notes as he sets up his coaching staff. From his celebratory first press conference to all his social interactions since, Mark Stoops appears to be up to the challenge to, like Charlie Strong, get the Kentucky football program into the upper echelon of college football. While no one, at this point, is entertaining ideas of BCS Bowls or National Championships, most member of Big Blue Nation want respectability and to be better than Louisville.
For years, as the football Wildcats have struggled to forge a winning tradition or establish any type of consistency, the Cardinals were in the same boat. But then, the athletic administration decided to do whatever it took to win. Louisville put money and other resources into getting the program where it is today, Sugar Bowl champions. Take it from someone that watched quite a few games from old Cardinal Stadium, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is infinitely nicer, more in line with facilities that you’d find at top 25 programs around the country. Tom Jurich, to his credit, has hired great coaches, each one adding to the football program, giving it more legitimacy. And finally, by keeping Coach Strong, Jurich and the University of Louisville have declared, “We’re here to stay. We don’t plan on going anywhere.” The question is: Is the University of Kentucky prepared to do the same?
I believe in Mark Stoops. I believe in Mitch Barnhart. I believe they can bring Kentucky up to the level that the Big Blue Nation has dreamed about for years. And right now, they don’t have a chance. If there’s one thing that Wildcat fans can’t stand, it’s being second to Louisville in anything. So Coach Stoops, the gauntlet has been thrown. How are the football Cats going to respond?