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July 24, 2013LOUISVILLE - Mark Stoops is 48 days from his first taste of the Kentucky-Louisville football rivalry, but the Wildcats' first-year head coach has been getting his share of appetizers.
At Wednesday's Governor's Cup Luncheon, Stoops said that as he's found his footing at UK, he's heard from fans "an awful lot" about the in-state battle that this year kicks off Sept. 28 at Commonwealth Stadium.
"And again, we embrace that, look forward to it," Stoops said. "It's going to be a great challenge, as we know, but it's not something we're not used to, coaching in rivalry games. And it's just as important if not more important than anywhere I've been. So I embrace that and look forward to the challenge."
Appearing along with Louisville coach Charlie Strong Wednesday at Hurstbourne Country Club, Stoops Governor's Cup week won't be just another week in the UK program, noting that there's a "little bit added to that week with your preparation, a little chip on your shoulder."
And while Stoops is looking forward to his first game against the Cardinals, much of the discussion Wednesday centered around the rivalry's long-term future.
For starters, there's the possibility that the Southeastern Conference might one day add a conference game, expanding the league schedule to nine games. If it does, Stoops admitted, UK would have to "see where that goes" relative to leaving Louisville on the schedule.
"But I don't sense that's an issue for us," said UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart, who said it's unlikely the SEC will add a ninth game at least before 2016. "It's a game we've played, Louisville, for the past 20 years or whatever it is. And we'll keep playing for a while."
Still, there could be further challenges going forward as Louisville moves into the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.
"You've got 14 teams in each league, the league they're going to, there's 14 teams and they've got their scheduling challenges as we've got our scheduling challenges," Barnhart said. "Conference schedules as well. It's not just Kentucky trying to get their schedule. This is everybody from Texas A&M to Georgia to everybody in between. Everybody's got schedules we're trying to fit all of this into a grid and make it work."
That might not impact the future of the game, but it could play a role in where it falls on the schedule. Stoops and Barnhart were asked about the current scheduling - the game is the season opener when Louisville hosts and the third game of the season when Kentucky hosts - and neither could definitively say if that will remain the same.
Stoops said he'd "generally like to play them after we get a few games under our belt, so game two, game three, somewhere around there."
Whenever the game is played, Stoops will treat the rivalry with some revelry.
"Well, I don't know who says (it's just another game) or what, but let's face it: It's important," Stoops said after the luncheon. "All you folks are here to talk about one game that's our third game into the season. We play Western (Kentucky) in our opener. When this time comes to prepare for Louisville, of course it's important. It's important to a lot of people in this state. It's important to our players. It's important to our fans. We want to deliver for those people."