Cincinnati vs Louisville: College football’s forgotten rivalry

Dec 17, 2022; Boston, MA, USA; Louisville Cardinals running back Maurice Turner (20) is forced out of bounds by Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Sammy Anderson (11) during the first half at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2022; Boston, MA, USA; Louisville Cardinals running back Maurice Turner (20) is forced out of bounds by Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Sammy Anderson (11) during the first half at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports /

The tensions between Cincinnati and Louisville’s college football programs has left the revival of their rivalry long overdue.

Many football fans out there (myself included) would say that the college game holds a dearer place in their hearts than the NFL, and the reason they feel that way can be summed up in a single word: Emotion.

The NFL is great, but the emotional factor in college football simply hits on a whole other level, especially in regards to the intensity of rivalry games. Sure, there are a plethora of rivalries in the pros as well, but they typically fail to replicate the magic shared between two heated universities. This is likely due to just how over-the-top CFB fans are known for getting in their displays of passion (field-storming being perhaps the biggest example).

With that said, one of the most heartbreaking parts of college athletics is when great rivalries get broken up—and we have seen several suffer such a fate. The subject matter has hurt fans enough that a multitude of sports media sites have covered matchups that they wish would return one day. One of said sites is 247 Sports.

Last year, 247 Sports’ Will Backus gave his list of 10 college football rivalries that he—and many others—would like to see make a comeback. Some of the biggest pairings mentioned were Georgia-Clemson, Pittsburgh-West Virginia and Texas-Texas A&M. One that Backus did not mention, however, is more competitive than all three of those. But unfortunately, it also appears to have the bleakest future: Cincinnati-Louisville.

The Bearcats and Cardinals have a lengthy history in college football (surrounding a trophy known as “The Keg of Nails”), dating all the way back to 1929. The majority of their meetings have taken place since 1950, with them facing off every year from 1966 to 1992, and then again from 1996 to 2013. In total, the Cats hold a 30-23-1 advantage.

Geography has played a sizable role in the rivalry, with not even a two-hour car ride separating the two cities. With this close distance came multiple run-ins between the schools through conference ties, with both teams previously sharing Conference USA, the Big East, and even the American Athletic Conference (though that was for only one season).

Factors like location and/or conference affiliation apply/have applied to many rivalries out there, and just about all of the 10 covered by Backus are no exceptions. However, several of them have met on more occasions in recent memory than Cincinnati and Louisville have (the 2022 Fenway Bowl has been their only battle since 2013). Not only that, but eight of them also have scheduled meetings for the foreseeable future, which the Bearcats and Cardinals do not.

I feel that these circumstances leave their rivalry all the more forgotten and, quite frankly, in all the more need of a revival, but what caused it to be left so far behind to begin with? Why does no one seem to care about the beef between the Cats and Cards like they do some other rivalries?

What has made Cincinnati-Louisville so forgettable in today’s college football?

To me, it ultimately boils down to its relevance on a national scale. No one bothered to keep track of the tensions between Cincinnati and Louisville simply because there wasn’t enough riding on them.

For years, the matchup was between two smaller programs. Even when the Cardinals joined the ACC, it still didn’t answer for Cincinnati’s ties to a smaller league, as “big-small” rivalries are susceptible to getting overlooked in the first place (The Rocky Mountain Showdown, NC State-East Carolina, Boston College-UMass, etc.). But with the Bearcats now set to join the Big 12, this should hopefully no longer be an issue.

In fact, that is just one reason as to why now would be a good time to begin setting a revival into motion. Another is the fact that both teams have been fairly competitive as of recently—which is something we don’t see from them terribly often.

That is not to imply that either program is a poor performer in any way. Rather, it is to simply acknowledge how the two powers are rarely good at the same time. For context, this last season was only the second since 2014 that saw both teams amass eight wins or more. While their strength would not be guaranteed to hold up by the time they’d actually face off, this is nonetheless as good of a time as ever to get the ball rolling.

One more factor that could spice things up between the two rivals is the whole Scott Satterfield situation.

Satterfield was the head coach at Louisville from 2019-2022, leading his Cardinals to a bowl berth in each of his three normal regular seasons there (their 2020-21 run was marred by COVID-19, resulting in sick players and only 11 games).

Upon parting ways with Louisville, Satterfield has since found a new home in Cincinnati…as the head coach of the Bearcats. If that wouldn’t add to the drama between them and the Cards, I don’t know what would.

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It may not be the greatest rivalry in college football, but there is certainly something to appreciate about the history that Cincinnati and Louisville share. In a perfect world, this would be a matchup we’d still see every year.