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Louisville Cardinals vs. Kentucky Wildcats Preview and Prediction

Stephen Johnson

Stephen Johnson

Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

The Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals head into this weekend's in-state rivalry game with a lot more on the line than meets the eye.

Both teams enter with 7-4 records, but for Mark Stoops' Kentucky team, the chance to get to an eight-win season is significant, even after a 42-13 blowout loss to College Football Playoff contender Georgia last weekend. If the Wildcats can earn win No. 8, it will mark the first time the program has hit that number since 1984.

To do something that hasn't happened in 33 years would be an astronomical achievement for a team that always plays second fiddle to the Wildcats' basketball squad year in and year out. Even though there hasn't necessarily been a signature win among those seven, the Wildcats did beat Tennessee, and even though the Vols are way down from their usual perch, a win over that program is still meaningful for Kentucky. So to reach the eight-win plateau with a second straight win over Louisville would be a nice feather in Stoops' cap.

It all seems to be coming together for Louisville, who crushed Syracuse last weekend, 56-10. Head coach Bobby Petrino — unlike in 2016 — has his team improving and playing its best football at the end of the year.

A year ago, the Cardinals lost at home to the rival Wildcats while in the midst of a three-game losing streak. This matchup gives the Cards a chance to avenge that loss and help the team finish on a high note.

Louisville at Kentucky

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 25 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: SEC Network

Spread: Louisville -10

Three Things to Watch

1. Last chance

Since Louisville will not be participating in the ACC Championship Game, this is quarterback Lamar Jackson's (above, right) last chance to prove to Heisman Trophy voters that he deserves to be the first repeat winner since Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974-75. Obviously, at this point, Jackson is on the outside looking in. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has been the best player in college football this season, but if Mayfield stumbles over the next two weeks, who knows — maybe there's a sliver of hope. Jackson, who has thrown for 3,273 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 1,287 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, has numbers that are not far off from last year's pace. He would need a Herculean effort to overtake Mayfield at this point, but anything's possible.

2. Don't forget the other QB

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson is not in any Heisman conversations, but the senior should not be overlooked. It's been an intriguing story for Johnson, who began his career at Grambling before spending a year in junior college and making his way to Kentucky last season. He won the job and had a career-defining game against Louisville last year, completing 16-of-27 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns while outplaying his highly touted counterpart. This season, Johnson has completed 162-of-261 passes for 1,938 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. Those figures don't approach Jackson's, but in the last home-field performance of his career, Johnson can certainly put in the type of effort he did a year ago.

3. On the run

Yes, Jackson is a threat with his legs as well as his arm, but another factor in the Cardinals' win over Syracuse was a breakout performance from senior running back Malik Williams, who had 180 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries. For the season, Williams has only 509 yards on the ground, so last week's showing makes up a big portion of that total. If the Cardinals can get him going again against the Wildcats, they'll be golden. However, this week will present a greater challenge. Kentucky has been fairly stout against the run considering the level of competition it has faced, as the Wildcats are 42nd in the nation in yards allowed per game on the ground. That's one spot above Louisville.

Final Analysis

This one should have a lot of juice behind it, as the Wildcats have a chance to beat Louisville two times in a row for the first time since winning four straight from 2007-10. Louisville's defense has made some nice strides since an awful start to the year for defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon's group. Expect the ascension on that side of the ball to continue, while Jackson puts the cherry on top of another incredible season.

College football rankings: Louisville

Prediction: Louisville 38, Kentucky 24

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.