LOUISVILLE, Ky. – No. 24 Louisville is looking to close the season with another Governor's Cup victory against rival Kentucky and solidifying its credentials for a possible Orange Bowl invitation.
Standing in the Cardinals' way is a Wildcats squad seeking its first postseason appearance in four years, and Kentucky can become bowl eligible by ending a three-game losing streak against Louisville and five-game overall slide.
The schools meet in Saturday's first season-ending showdown for Bluegrass bragging rights, previously decided earlier in the year. The contest also matches teams heading in opposite directions: host Louisville (8-3) has won back-to-back games since losing to Florida State; Kentucky (5-6) comes off a bye aiming to avoid a fourth straight losing season.
The Wildcats can do that with a sixth win that would make them bowl eligible and slow the Cardinals' roll.
"It would be awesome," said Wildcats sophomore defensive end/linebacker Jason Hatcher, a Louisville native. "Not only for me but for the program. It's a rivalry and it's the last game of the year. What better position to be in, to get that sixth win than against your archrival, (which) is having a pretty good season as well?"
Kentucky leads the series 14-12 but Louisville has won seven of 11. Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino earned four of those early-season wins during his previous stint at the school from 2003-06 and welcomes the rivalry's move to the end of the season.
"Now that it is the last game of the season I think it is exciting because it is rivalry weekend," Petrino said this week. "We are doing just like everybody else in the country and there is a lot at stake for both universities, so it should be very exciting for our fans, very exciting for their fans."
Louisville enters with the momentum of last week's 31-28 victory at Notre Dame, a game that Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he watched a good portion of during the weekend off.
The second-year coach was impressed by the Cardinals in many areas but comes in with a Wildcats team that was looking pretty good themselves just over a month ago at 5-1. Gloomy as Kentucky's outlook has become during the skid, players are motivated by the fact that one win can change everything.
Playing an archrival certainly adds incentive.
"It's pretty self-explanatory. We win, we're going to play another game," Stoops said.
Here are other things to look out for as the Wildcats and Cardinals battle for the Governor's Cup:
ACCOUNT FOR PARKER: Louisville senior wide receiver DeVante Parker hasn't missed a beat despite missing the first seven games with a broken left small toe, catching 29 passes for 555 yards and two TDs in four games. The Cardinals will be looking to the Louisville native often in his home finale, but Parker faces a Kentucky secondary that ranks fifth in the Southeastern Conference against the pass (200 yards per game) and has intercepted 13 passes after picking off just three in 2013.
RECHARGE AND RESIST: Kentucky used its second bye week to rest and return to fundamentals and the Wildcats' defense certainly needed to reboot after allowing at least 40 points and 423 yards in four of their five consecutive losses. That average includes yielding combined totals of 113 points and 1,070 yards in defeats to Georgia and Tennessee.
PETRINO'S KENTUCKY MASTERY: Petrino is 5-1 all-time against Kentucky including last season's win in Nashville as Western Kentucky's coach. His lone loss to the Wildcats came in 2008 while with Arkansas.
HARD YARDS: Kentucky has gained 262 yards or fewer in three of its five consecutive losses and now faces Louisville's seventh-ranked defense allowing 290.2 yards per game. The Cardinals have a nation-leading 23 interceptions and rank eighth in sacks with 36.
SENIORS' SENDOFF: The Cardinals will bid farewell to 23 seniors who helped the program win 38 of 50 games over four years and earn two Big East titles and four consecutive bowl berths including this season. Louisville has lost three of the past four on Senior Day but is 54-40-1 all-time.