What is the Governor’s Cup? Kentucky vs. Louisville rivalry explained

What is the Governor's Cup rivalry, and how does the game shape up in 2021? Will Kentucky or Louisville take home the trophy on Saturday?

The two most prestigious college football programs in the state of Kentucky belong to the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals. Thus, it naturally follows that the Wildcats and the Cardinals battle for state-wide superiority every year in the Governor’s Cup. What is the Governor’s Cup, and what is the outlook of the rivalry in 2021?

What is the Governor’s Cup?

The Governor’s Cup symbolizes the rivalry between Kentucky football and Louisville football. A trophy aptly named the Governor’s Cup is awarded to the victor in any given season. Kentucky and Louisville meet in the final game of the regular season each year to determine who takes home the cup for another 12 months.

The Governor’s Cup rivalry series began in 1912. But back then, it wasn’t much of a rivalry. The two teams played six times between 1912 and 1924, and Kentucky won every matchup in a shoutout. After 1924, the two teams didn’t play for 70 years. The historic rivalry resumed in 1994. Kentucky won the revival in a much closer 20-14 outing. But the next season, Louisville would get its first series victory, winning 13-10.

Since the 1994 Governor’s Cup, the Wildcats and the Cardinals have amassed 32 total meetings. In that span, Kentucky has a slim 17-15 lead. The 2020 iteration of the rivalry was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the most recent meeting occurred in November of 2019. In that matchup, Kentucky won 45-13.

Kentucky has won the last two meetings, but in general, Louisville has had the edge in recent years. The Cardinals won five straight from 2011 to 2015 and six of seven from 2011 to 2017. In the 26 meetings since the series revival in 1994, Louisville leads Kentucky 15-11. They’d reached .500 after the 2017 meeting but have since fallen back under par.

When is the Governor’s Cup in 2021?

The latest edition of the Governor’s Cup rivalry game will be played in Louisville at Cardinal Stadium. It’ll take place at 7:30 PM ET on Saturday, November 27.

Neither Kentucky nor Louisville enters this football game ranked, although Kentucky was ranked highly earlier in the season. At this point, however, both teams are bowl eligible, with more than six wins on the year. Kentucky is 8-3 overall and 5-3 in conference play, while Louisville is 6-5 and 4-4, respectively.

Louisville can’t get back to .500 in the series with this matchup alone, but a win would close the gap. Kentucky has a two-game buffer, but the Cardinals can make it 17-16 overall with a victory on Saturday. If Kentucky were to win, the gap between the two teams would increase to three games.

Prediction for the Governor’s Cup rivalry game in 2021

SEC play hasn’t been entirely kind to Kentucky, but the Wildcats have rebounded nicely after a 2020 season that saw them go 5-6. The Wildcats were one of the last remaining undefeated teams several weeks ago. Although they’ve had some hiccups in recent weeks, they’re still a strong 8-3.

The Wildcats have a solid all-around roster with NFL talent on both sides of the ball. On offense, Will Levis, Chris Rodriguez Jr., and Wan’Dale Robinson are the core pieces of production, but the unit is facilitated by a stout offensive line. On defense, standouts like Josh Paschal, Jordan Wright, J.J. Weaver, DeAndre Square, and Yusuf Corker have helped keep the group respectable.

Louisville clearly isn’t as talent-dense as Kentucky, but there are still names to know for the Cardinals. Malik Cunningham is one of the most electric threats in college football. This season, the Cardinals signal-caller has passed and rushed for 18 touchdowns each. He has nearly 1,000 rushing yards, and he’s also thrown for 2,589 yards over 11 games.

Cunningham is a dynamic weapon, and he’s the most pressing threat for the Kentucky defense in this one. But Louisville’s defense could also glean some production against Levis. Kei’Trel Clark, Kenderick Duncan Jr., Chandler Jones, and Qwynnterrio Cole make up one of the more underrated secondaries in the league. Meanwhile, Yasir Abdullah is a dangerous defender in the box.

Can Louisville close the gap on Kentucky in 2021?

Cunningham is the X-factor in this Governor’s Cup rivalry matchup, but he can be volatile at times. Kentucky’s defense has the talent to force him into mistakes. And on the other sideline, Levis isn’t a player to scoff at. He’s had his ups and downs in his first year in Lexington, but he’s a tough passer with a great arm and solid athleticism as well.

Head to head, the nod goes to Kentucky in this game — but Louisville has enough on both sides of the ball to stay competitive and put up some points.

Prediction: Kentucky 44, Louisville 35

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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