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Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville will try to win its second straight Governor’s Cup against Kentucky on Sunday after losing the previous four. The Cardinals tied for the Big East title last season and have a lot of talent back to make a run for a BCS bowl game. Louisville won five of its last six regular-season games as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Big East Rookie of the Year, came of age. Bridgewater won’t have his top receiver Michaelee Harris, lost for the season with a knee injury, but the Cardinals have depth at the position. Kentucky will likely face a very solid defense, which has six starters returning, without Josh Clemons. The tailback had arthroscopic knee surgery last week. Still, the pressure is squarely on Louisville. Kentucky leads the series 14-10 and has won five straight season openers overall.
KENTUCKY (2011: 5-7, 2-6 SEC): The Wildcats beat Ole Miss, Tennessee and gave Georgia a scare in their last four games to squeeze something out of a disappointing season. When Clemons returns, Kentucky could have a solid one-punch at running back with CoShik Williams, who had a team-leading 486 yards in 2011. Sophomore Maxwell Smith won the battle for the quarterback spot. The team’s most productive returning player – La’Rod King (40 receptions, 598 yards) – will make his job easier. The Wildcats allowed 24.7 points per contest last year and have lost some key personnel on defense. Others must step up, especially defensive back Martavius Neloms.
LOUISVILLE (2011: 7-6, 5-2 Big East): If the Cardinals can match last season’s solid efforts on defense, they are the definite frontrunner in the Big East. Louisville was second in the Big East in total defense and 10th in the nation in rushing defense in 2011. The Cardinals lost some key performers, but have talented safety Hakeem Smith, cornerback Adrian Bushell and linebacker Preston Brown to lead the way. Coach Charlie Strong is expecting Bridgewater to progress after throwing 14 touchdown passes and being intercepted 12 times. Converted quarterback Dominique Brown should be able to take some pressure off at running back as well.
1. Louisville must replace their starting punter and place kicker.
2. Kentucky was 118th in total offense last season at less than 260 yards per game.
3. The under is 9-0 in Louisville’s last nine home games.