By Dr. John Huang
Okay Kentucky, it’s time to man up. You always wanted to play big boy football. Because of a worldwide pandemic, you finally get your chance this year (we hope) to prove that you belong.
With the SEC going to a ten-game, conference only schedule, the Wildcats’ path to glory is chocked full of traditional powerhouses from arguably the best league in the land. No more padding your coffers with directional schools from mid-level conferences. No more breathers on the docket—every opponent is fully legit. In fact, the thought of playing Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Georgia all in the same year should send Mark Stoops’ ever-receding hairline plunging down the back of his head.
A new era for Kentucky Football
Stoops takes pride in the fact that he’s built his program brick by brick. If what he says is true—that the culture of Kentucky Football has truly changed—then his five-million-dollar salary is well deserved and justified. Long suffering Kentucky Football fans can finally exorcise their demons and realistically dream about SEC championships.
The worst part about being a die-hard, long suffering Kentucky Football fan is that you just can’t shake the bad memories. You’re psyche is cluttered with all those boneheaded penalties, inopportune turnovers, and botched coverages that always seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. That Indian burial ground beneath Commonwealth Stadium continues to haunt us. The Bear Bryant curse refuses to die.
TIME OUT! This isn’t your father’s Kentucky Football program anymore. Or is it? The 2020 season should tell us once and for all whether the Wildcats have permanently arrived. If the team’s goal is to be top echelon, then a .500 or below record in the SEC is no longer acceptable.
And therein lies the rub. In the eighty-six seasons since they’ve been in the league, Kentucky has had only eight SEC winning seasons. Yep, you heard that right—and only one of those years (5 – 3 in 2018) occurred after 1977. So what makes us think they’ve turned the corner?
Here’s what’s different
Hope always springs eternal in the Bluegrass. Armed with a veteran returning signal caller in Terry Wilson, a stable of productive running backs, and an offensive line ranked fourth-best in the country, the Cats should be able to move the ball and put up points. Combine that with a defense that returns seven starters on a team that was ranked top 20 in yards allowed last year—plus an all-world punter in Max Duffy—and you can see why hopes are riding high.
Here’s the bottom line. It’s all about the talent you put out on the field. With Vince Marrow’s Yahtzee meter working overtime these past few seasons, Kentucky now has the talent and the depth to jump to the top of the conference food chain. Not only have the Cats climbed out of the proverbial cellar, but they’ve now vaulted squarely over the middle of the pack. If Kentucky claims to be knocking on the door of the elite, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for them to 1) beat the also-rans on a consistent basis and 2) split with the actual contenders.
Don’t even think about it
Looking at this year’s schedule, that means victories over Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Missouri—and splits with Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Georgia. That’s 8 – 2 by my count. Throw in the usual clunker against the Vols, and you’re still sitting pretty at 7 – 3. Even the most hardened skeptic would be receptive to 6 – 4.
But 5 – 5? SHUT YOUR MOUTH! A .500 record (or God forbid—worse) with the size, speed, and strength on this team will set the program back two decades. Remember that Stoops won ten games just two seasons ago. He’s taken Kentucky to four straight bowl games, winning the last two. He’s sent a bevy of players to the NFL during that period.
With this year’s talent pool, a .500 record will only bring out the naysayers—the negative nellies who claim Kentucky will never be an SEC contender. It’ll also wake up all those ghosts of seasons past. Let those sleeping ghosts lie. Or better yet, banish them for all eternity.
Let’s hope Kentucky plays football this fall. Just don’t go 5 – 5.