Kentucky’s football season opens on Sunday with its annual battle against Louisville, and like many games this season, the Cats will enter the contest a decided underdog. Louisville is ranked in the top 25, Kentucky is projected to finish dead last in the SEC, and the odds are stacked against the boys from Lexington. But Louisville will still be bringing an underdog mentality into Sunday’s contest, according to head coach Charlie Strong, making the yearly rivalry an odd sort of battle between “underdogs”.
Kentucky’s won four of the last five matchups between the two squads, and Strong is well aware of that fact. “Let’s make sure we’re always the underdog.” Strong told his players leading into this weekend’s battle, according to Jerry Tipton. “We will always stay the hunter.” As a ranked team facing off against one of the projected weakest Kentucky teams of the last decade, it’s an odd stance to take. Everyone, from Vegas to front-porchers across Kentucky, is expecting the Cardinals to take this one without much in the way of a challenge.
And UK’s head coach Joker Phillips sees hope in that negative mentality. “What a great opportunity for us,” Joker told Cat Scratches. “We’ve played a lot of top 25 teams, come out on top on some. This is a great opportunity for us to play against a top-25 team in our first game.”
Opportunity may be exactly what Kentucky needs. The Cats are projected by many to go winless in conference play, alongside only winning three games on the year. If Kentucky can harness their underdog attitude and pull a surprise upset, it might just provide the confidence and momentum to carry them through an overwhelming SEC schedule.
Starting quarterback Max Smith is up to the challenge. “I think everybody likes being the underdog,” Smith said. “You go out and try to prove yourself. You’ve got to like being an underdog and that’s what we are.” Smith’s teammates may be well-suited to follow their signal-caller into battle, because he recognizes the reality of the situation. Louisville might pretend they’re underdogs, but Smith knows he is, and intends to use it to his advantage.
The element of surprise can be a powerful thing. If Kentucky can step out on Sunday, make a few big plays early, and hold off the ranked Cardinals, it could be the first surprise victory of many this season. Smith enjoys the “underdog” label at the moment. Fans would prefer the “favorite” title before the year is out. Because as welcoming as the element of surprise is at the beginning of the season, being expected to lose all year is yet another sign of an unsuccessful campaign in a dominating conference.
Filed Under: Football
About the Author: Corey Tincher is a lifelong Kentucky fan and professional writer who couldn't keep the two worlds apart. He is the lead contributor for StraitCats.com and literally wrote the book on the 2012 NCAA Tournament Championship run, Big Blue Articles: Kentucky Basketball in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Follow @Corey_Tincher on Twitter for more Kentucky news and discussion.