LEXINGTON — Kentucky coach Joker Phillips knows there are still those who believe the UK-Louisville game should open the football season, not be played in week three as it will this year when Kentucky hosts the game. However, Phillips said here Thursday at the annual Governor’s Cup press luncheon that the important fact was that the two teams are playing.
“I'm just happy we're playing,” said Phillips.”It's been a great rivalry and an exciting rivalry. But it’s definitely elevated both programs.There's no doubt about that. We have two games to get ready this year, but so does Louisville and that may actually help (Louisville coach) Charlie (Strong) because of all the starters he lost. He's got a young team and we've got some questions to be answered also. I really like having two games prior to this game. Hopefully, we both can get some questions answered in those two games."
“It’s been a great rivalry and an exciting rivalry for us, no matter when in the year we play it,” Strong said. “It’s definitely elevated both programs. I think it’s elevated high school football in the state, too.
It’s helped Kentucky even more recently because the Wildcats have won four straight games in the series — the same streak the Cardinals once had in the series — and have already been made a favorite to win the Sept. 17 game this season. Kentucky won 23-16 last year in Louisville when both Strong and Phillips made their head coaching debuts.
Phillips says the recent wins do not change Kentucky’s approach to the rivalry game.
“We don’t try to change the way we go about our business. We know it is a tough, physical, hard-nose game. You can’t change the attitude of how you look at this game when it is a big rivalry like this,” Phillips said. “We understand where we came from, where we are at now and where we want to go. For us to go where we want to go, we can’t take anyone lightly or change our attitude about the way we feel about this game.”
Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart tried to be diplomatic about Kentucky’s recent dominance in the series perhaps because he remembered when Louisville dominated play before.
“It clearly is an important game for both teams. At some point in time, for a rivalry to be a rivalry you have to win your share of them,” Barnhart said. “It is one thing to be 80 miles down the road. That’s one piece of the rivalry. But it would mean nothing if we didn’t win a couple every once in a while and they didn’t win a couple every once in a while. Then it becomes not much of a rivalry.
“I think everybody has to have their turn. Certainly being on the winning side of it is better than being on the losing side. Those streaks are a lot more fun when you are winning than when you are losing. We have a couple of streaks in the SEC we have to get fixed (against Tennessee and Florida), and those aren’t fun. It’s no fun being part of those streaks. We have ended a few streaks since we have been here. We want to continue to try and do that.”
Barnhart wasn’t ready to say the rivalry needed a Louisville win to rekindle the fire this year, though.
“As I said, the game is important to everybody and clearly we want to get our share of wins,” Barnhart said.
Ticket sales: Barnhart also said football season ticket sales “are fine” despite last year’s 6-7 record and BBVA Compass Bowl loss to Pittsburgh to end the season.
“We are doing okay. There is a lot of ... it’s a tough economy for everybody. We are relatively close to where we were last year,” Barnhart said. “Student season tickets just went on sale last week, so they are doing fine. People are having to make some choices about what they want to do with their money and sometimes it doesn’t work out where people can stay with it.
“But we have had a very good renewal rate with our K-Fund and season tickets. We are fine and plugging along. Obviously we want as many people as we can in the stands. That’s an important piece of the puzzle (for the football program.”
Some season ticket holders have been offered a chance to buy extra tickets for the Florida, Tennessee and Louisville games, the three marquee home games this season.
“That’s nothing different. We have always done that,” Barnhart said. “No one should read anything into that.”
The UK¿athletics director also said he’s seen a preliminary report on UK’s facilities plan that includes information on everything from Commonwealth Stadium to softball/baseball fields to the $12 million track complex.
“There are a lot of capital projects possible and you can only take so much at a time,” Barnhart said.
Player updates: Phillips said senior safety Mychal Bailey, who was suspended from the end of spring practice for academic reasons, has now been suspended for UK’s season-opening game against Western Kentucky Sept. 1.
However, freshman defensive back Glenn Faulkner, one of UK's top recruits, has been cleared as Phillips predicted last week he would and will report for practice with the other players next week. Faulkner was rated as the top recruit in Illinois by some recruiting services.