I did not grow up a Kentucky Wildcats fan. I can trace my fandom back to my decision in the fall of 1994 when I decided to enroll at the University of Kentucky the following fall. Even though I’ve only been in the Big Blue Nation for a little over 20 years, I’ve seen enough disappointment on the football field to last a lifetime. And Saturday’s loss to Southern Mississippi was another in a long line of stomach punch games for the BBN.
In his post game press conference, UK head coach Mark Stoops seemed resigned to the fact that a huge number of fans have already bailed on the 2016 season. Season ticket renewals were below expected levels prior to the season and after the disappointing loss to the Golden Eagles, it’s a given that Commonwealth Stadium won’t be near capacity for the foreseeable future. I try not to be a Debbie Downer, but I can’t blame the fans that are jumping ship. I can’t chastise those fans that are already counting down to Big Blue Madness. Generally speaking, the Kentucky Football fan has, historically, given so much and not seen a return on that investment.
The most frustrating aspect of Kentucky Football is that the talent is there currently and has been. The Wildcats have had SEC level talent. The Wildcat alumni in the NFL shows that talent has come through Lexington. It’s frustrating that the on the field product hasn’t matched the talent level of the players in the program. And that is a byproduct of poor coaching. I’m not an expert on coaching football. But even as a lay person, it’s tough to watch players be put in bad situations time and time again. Unlike the vaunted men’s basketball program, the Kentucky Football program’s margin for error is minimal.
After the money that the UK athletic department poured into the football program (finally), the Big Blue Nation bought into Coach Stoops’ dream for the Wildcats. We’ve got the facilities to compete in the SEC. We’re bringing in SEC level talent, adding depth that Kentucky hasn’t consistently had. The results, however, haven’t been just been mixed: they’ve been terrible. I can accept losing to Alabama, Florida, LSU and even Tennessee. To be pushed around at home by Conference USA member Southern Miss? To narrowly escape Louisiana Lafayette and Eastern Kentucky? At home? Inexcusable.
The back to back 5-7 seasons of 2014 and 2015 were undone by not finishing games, making too many mental errors and coaches not making adjustments in real time. After 60 minutes on Saturday, it appears that the 2016 season will be more of the same. There’s still 11 games left on the schedule. Coach Stoops and his staff have to turn this thing around and do it quickly. No more talk. No more slogans. No more angry or apologetic press conferences. If you want the Big Blue Nation to stick with you, to quote the late Al Davis, “Just win, baby.”