Kentucky Wildcats (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. No. 25 Louisville Cardinals (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date/Time: Sunday, September 2nd, 2012/3:30 p.m. EST
Where: Papa Johnís Cardinal Stadium
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UK +14/LV -14
Over/Under Total: OFF
The battle for the ďGovernorís CupĒ of the state of Kentucky will take place on opening weekend of the college football season, when the Kentucky Wildcats travel to Papa Johnís Cardinal Stadium to play the 25th-ranked Louisville Cardinals Sunday on ESPN.
The air in Papa Johnís Stadium will be thick with excitement, not just because itís the opener for both of the in-state rivals, but because expectations are high for the Cardinals in 2012.
Louisville returns 17 starters from last yearís 7-6 team, which would be cause for excitement under normal circumstances, but add into the equation that the Big East Conference is weaker with the defection of West Virginia (Big 12) and the addition of Temple, and the folks around Louisville are talking conference titles in 2012.
The talk in Lexington is 180-degrees different, as head coach Joker Phillips enters his third year squarely on the hot seat. After a 5-7 year in 2011, including a 2-6 mark in the SEC, Phillips is feeling the pressure of the unrealistic expectations of the Kentucky faithful.
The Cardinals are loaded with experience, especially on defense where nine starters return from last seasonís 18th-ranked unit including all four starters along the defensive front and All-American candidates Adrian Bushell and Hakeem Smith in the secondary. Louisville coach Charlie Strong also brings in a strong recruiting class, including freshman linebacker Keith Brown who spurned the big programs in his state (Florida St., Florida, Miami) in order to come to Louisville and try to contribute immediately.
Louisville will also be strong on offense thanks to the return of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who threw for over 2,000 yards and 14 TDs as a freshman, and four-fifths of the starting offensive line including C Mario Benevides and G Jake Smith. The same offensive line did allow 41 sacks last season, so thereís plenty of room for improvement in 2012.
Kentucky recently announced that Sophomore QB Maxwell Smith won the battle for the starting position. Smith, who made three starts last year as a freshman, will have some help up front with G Larry Warford and C Matt Smith back for 2012.
The Wildcats will have a lot of holes to fill on defense however, as only five players return from last yearís unit that really struggled in SEC play. DE Collins Ukwu leads the Cats defense, but a lack of talent elsewhere could open the door for true freshman like safety Zack Blaylock (son of ex-NBA star Mookie Blaylock) to contribute immediately.
While you can never over estimate the competitiveness of an in-state rivalry on the gridiron, most oddsmakers are expecting a lopsided affair by setting the opening point spread with Louisville as 13-point favorites. The early take at the window appears to be in the Cardinals favor too, as the number is up to -13.5 or even -14 at most of the sportsbooks on the Web.
If youíre a fan of following the betting trends though, you may want to go in the other direction and wager on Kentucky. The underdog is a solid 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings in the rivalry, and the road team is a perfect 4-0 ATS in the last four attempts. The under play turn into a solid play as well, going 3-1-1 in the last five head-to-heads and 4-1 in the last five games played at Papa Johnís Cardinal Stadium.
Badger's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: With Louisvilleís strong defense back I expect the Wildcats to have a very hard time scoring points. The safest play might be the under, but without a number itís hard to recommend any play on the total. Louisville should roll in this game, especially at home, to kickoff their title-hopeful 2012 season in style. Take Louisville minus the points.
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