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Short of Expectations

Kentucky’s football team will not be playing in the Southeastern Conference championship game. The Wildcats won’t be participating in a New Year’s Day bowl encounter this season. They will break even or win seven to eight games depending on the outcome of the last two encounters.

It’s a far cry from last year when the Wildcats were routinely scoring and soaring under former offensive coordinator Liam Coen. 

A season that began with high expectations following a second 10-win season in four years has quickly turned into one of disappointment down the stretch even though Kentucky is bowl eligible with two games remaining. The final conference game is Saturday against top-ranked Georgia and the finale will be against rival Louisville on Thanksgiving weekend.

The Wildcats opened with four straight victories but have lost four of the past six games — all of which were league encounters. The downfall began with a 22-19 loss at Mississippi on Oct. 1 and Kentucky has struggled to regain the confidence it had during the first quarter of the season. 

The team’s offense has struggled under first-year offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, especially during the past month. Although the Wildcats have veteran quarterback Will Levis and running back Chris Rodriguez, the offensive line also hasn’t lived up to the expectations of the “Big Blue Wall.”

In conference play, unexpected losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt and ranked foes Ole Miss and Tennessee have placed the Wildcats in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Division. Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky will be battling for third place in the division Saturday. Kentucky has the hardest path to finishing 4-4 in the league.

It’s hard to gauge whether Kentucky’s troubles can be entirely placed on Scangarello but losing to the Commodores and only scoring and average of 16 points in the past three games can’t be encouraging numbers on his coaching resume. The defense hasn’t exactly played inspiring football during the past month, either, but scoring points is a top priority in college football.

Coach Mark Stoops said after the setback to Vanderbilt, which ended the Commodores’ 26-game conference losing streak, he’s not making staff changes, at least for now. In the past, Stoops isn’t known to make in-season changes of any kind and kept Shannon Dawson through the end of the 2015 season before making a change after a season-ending loss to Louisville that year.

Sure, the NIL is a concern in terms of recruiting, but money isn’t and shouldn’t be everything in college athletics. Hopefully money won’t become the name of the game in the collegiate ranks and create a wedge between education and sports. The top priority should always be to obtain an education, which is the main function of colleges and universities. 

There certainly are issues within the program that need to be addressed by Stoops, but don’t expect those concerns to be fixed during the next two weeks. That’s just not Stoops’ style. 

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Keith Taylor
Keith Taylor is an award-winning journalist who has covered Kentucky athletics since 1995. He is the sports editor of Kentucky Today and his work appears in 12 daily newspapers as well as various weekly and web sites throughout the state. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor 21.

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