When the historic rivalry between IU and the University of Kentucky is brought up, most people think of the two schools’ meetings on the hardwood, not the gridiron. From Christian Watford’s iconic game-winning shot in 2011, to Anthony Davis and company knocking the Hoosiers out in the 2012 Sweet 16 en route to a National Championship, both schools share a common history and prowess on the basketball court, having met annually through 2011.
Since then, fans of both schools have hoped for a return to play.
Throw all of that out the window, because while the basketball side of the rivalry is great, the football series between the Hoosiers and the Wildcats is even longer overdue to make its return.
From 1987 to 2005, the two schools met annually on the football field. Between 1987 and 1999, they played for the Bourbon Barrel trophy, until the trophy was retired for good in 1999 following the alcohol-related death of a Kentucky player.
While the trophy itself would be unlikely to return due to its associations with alcohol, the game itself would be a great addition to the schedule for the Hoosiers.
There is plenty of history between these schools on the gridiron. They first met in 1893 in Lexington, Kentucky, with the game ending in a 24-24 tie. In 2005, Hoosiers won the final meeting 38-14, and lead the all-time series 18-17-1.
The series was almost reignited in bowl season last year, after Stadium’s Brett McMurphy reported the two schools would meet in the 2020 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.
Later that day, Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio reported that the University of Tennessee Volunteers preferred the Gator Bowl to its spot in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, and successfully argued with the Southeastern Conference that they deserved the spot over the Wildcats due to their head-to-head win. The Hoosiers ended up losing to the Volunteers 23-22 in the Gator Bowl.
In a non-conference schedule often filled with cupcake games, Kentucky could serve as a quality win for IU. The Wildcats have reached a bowl game in four consecutive years, winning the 2019 VRBO Citrus Bowl in the 2018 season against Penn State and the 2019 Belk Bowl against the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Both teams finished the 2019 season with eight wins, so the contest would be evenly matched. While IU gets several chances at quality wins annually in the Big Ten against schools like Ohio State and Michigan, those teams are usually far better than the Hoosiers. An annual game that is both winnable and quality would be a massive boost to the team’s schedule.
Plus, there are a number of potential sites for a game. In addition to the on-campus options of Memorial Stadium in Bloomington and Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky, the schools could play a neutral site game at the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis. The regular season basketball series between the two schools rotated between the RCA Dome in Indianapolis — the former home of the Colts — and Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, from 1991 to 2005.
Regardless of the location, a game between these two teams would be a hit with fans. The schools are in close proximity to one another, and the established bad blood on the basketball court is likely to spill over into an intense game of football.
Instantly, the game would be a must for fans of both schools.
While reviving the rivalry makes a lot of sense, the biggest issue arises from scheduling availability. Both IU and Kentucky don’t have room for a non-conference football opponent until 2025. So if the battle for the Bourbon Barrel is to be renewed before then, it would almost certainly have to be in a bowl game.
While it’s been more than 15 years since the Hoosiers and Wildcats last faced off on the gridiron, a return to play would instantly be a hit, letting the two rivals get started right where they left off.