CINCINNATI — The schedule makers for the first American Athletic Conference season came up with quite an ending: Louisville at Cincinnati with so much at stake.
Instead, about the only thing at stake tonight at Nippert Stadium will be a big old keg of nails that’s the traveling trophy for a long-standing Ohio River football rivalry that’s going away after the game.
“Both Louisville and ourselves would love to be undefeated, which we were all counting on at the beginning of the year at this point in deciding the conference championship,” Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We still have something to say about it, but we can’t control it.”
No. 19 Louisville (10-1, 6-1) won the final Big East football title last season and beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
The Cardinals were favored to add the first American Athletic Conference title before moving on to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year.
Instead, Central Florida upset them in Louisville and has remained perfect in conference play, eliminating the Cardinals from contention for the league’s BCS berth.
Five things to watch tonight:
• Kay’s farewell: Sixth-year senior Brandon Kay will play his final game at Nippert Stadium. He’s been the key to Cincinnati’s six-game winning streak. Over the past 25 quarters, Kay has completed 72 percent of his passes for 2,126 yards and 17 touchdowns.
• Bridgewater & Brown: Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater had his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass snapped at 21 during a 24-17 win over Memphis in the last game. It’s not all on him tonight. Junior Dominique Brown, a Cincinnati native, ran for a career-high 137 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Houston two weeks ago.
• Oh those defenses: It could be a low-scoring game, given the weather forecast – wind and rain – and the rankings of the two defenses. Louisville ranks second in the country in total defense and Cincinnati is eighth.
• About that weather: The teams played in heavy rain in Louisville last season, with the Cardinals winning 34-31 in overtime. More rain is expected today as a storm moves through the region, so there’s a chance that a slip with the ball here or there could decide it.
• The keg’s resting place: The keg doesn’t actually contain nails. And nobody knows exactly who introduced it – a fraternity is the best guess.
But the winner tonight will get to keep the memento of a rivalry that has been played since 1929 and has covered the Missouri Valley Conference, Conference USA, the Big East and the AAC.
“I think (Kentucky) is our biggest rival, but I think Cincinnati is right there with them with the guys we recruit, the areas we recruit, the conference we play in,” Louisville center Jake Smith said. “The way that the rivalry has worked out these past few years, and the way that some of the games have transpired, I think it really plays into the whole situation.”