UK-WKU football series needs to be renewed

One of the real disappointments for football fans in the commonwealth over the past decade has been the absence of a game between the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University, and there won’t be one anytime soon — with non-conference schedules made out years in advance.

The Wildcats and the Hilltoppers haven’t met on the gridiron since 2013, and that’s a shame because a burgeoning, highly competitive in-state rivalry between the two was certainly afoot at that time.

UK and Western played for the first time in 2008, when David Elson’s overmatched WKU team absorbed a 41-3 defeat before a crowd of 70,731 at Kroger Field in Lexington. Ironically, this would be the first of 26 consecutive defeats for the Hilltoppers as they began their challenging transition from the FCS to the FBS.

In 2010, with Willie Taggart in his first season at the WKU helm, the Hilltoppers lost at Kentucky 63-28 before a crowd of 66,584. This happened to be the 22nd consecutive loss in Western’s long losing skid, and the Tops were still no threat at all to upset the Cats in Lexington.

The following season, however, things began to change.

In 2011, with Western “hosting” UK at LP Field in Nashville, the game between the Wildcats and Hilltoppers was competitive throughout. WKU had a chance to score a go-ahead touchdown late, but quarterback Kawuan Jakes overthrew a wide open Jack Doyle deep in UK territory. The Wildcats added a clinching touchdown in the final minutes to win, 14-3, before 24,599.

Jakes made up for that misfire a year later.

In 2012, Western defeated Kenucky 32-31 in overtime on a trick play 2-point conversion. Jakes threw a backwards pass to running back Antonio Andrews, who then threw a forward pass to Jakes, who easily jogged into the end zone for the game-winning score before a stunned gathering of 53,980 in Lexington.

No doubt about it, this was one of the signature victories in Western’s football history. And, no doubt about it, this was a UK loss that signaled the end for Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, who played his high school ball at Franklin-Simpson, just a half-hour drive from the WKU campus.

The most recent meeting between the programs ultimately spelled the end (temporarily, at least) of the WKU-UK series.

This is unfortunate — in more ways than one.

In 2013, with Mark Stoops having replaced Phillips at UK and Bobby Petrino having replaced Taggart at WKU, the Wildcats and Hilltoppers met again at LP Field in Nashville. This time, a revved up, evenly-split crowd of 47,623 turned up for Western’s second “home” game against Kentucky in the Music City.

Western scored on its first possession and never looked back — controlling the tenor of the contest throughout on the way to a convincing 35-26 victory.

Obviously, by this time Kentucky had seen enough celebrating by Western’s famously furry mascot, “Big Red,” because the two teams have not met on the football field since.

From a purely practical standpoint for UK, I get it — and it results in compliment of sorts to the fast trajectory of a WKU program that has gone 7-3 in bowl games and has won a pair of Conference USA championships in its relatively brief FBS existence.

Arch-rival Louisville is already one of four yearly non-conference opponents, and even though the Cardinals have been tepid in this series as of late (Kentucky has won six of the last seven meetings), they are a legitimate threat to hand the Cats a loss. With weekly challenges looming in the Southeastern Conference, the Cats can’t afford too many L’s outside of the league.

Then again, should UK — a member of SEC, the best and most powerful football conference in the land — be reluctant to face WKU on the gridiron?

No, and this I don’t get.

After all, Stoops has done an outstanding job making the Wildcats more competitive within the SEC over the past decade. Both programs have made major strides since they last met, and fans on both sides (and beyond) would love to see them compete again.

Life’s too short for the state’s three Football Bowl Subdivision teams not to play each other as much as possible (when they don’t, the fans are the biggest losers) — but the Cats and Toppers won’t meet in the regular season through 2028, at the very least.

In addition to Louisville, the Wildcats’ non-conference football foes over this stretch include Toledo (three times), Murray State (twice), Southern Miss, Ohio, Eastern Michigan, Tennessee Tech, Akron, Youngstown State, South Alabama, Ball State, Kent State, and Eastern Illinois.

Something’s amiss here.

Adding Western Kentucky to the UK grid mix at some point in the not-too-distant future is something that needs to be done for the betterment of college football in the commonwealth — and the sooner this takes place, the better.