After two games the Kentucky football team finds themselves in a surprising 0-2 hole. As many lows as there have been over the years this is the first time they have been in this position in two decades.
This is the first time since 1996 (20 years, this mathematically challenged guy says) Kentucky's football team has started 0-2.
— Justin Rowland (@RowlandRIVALS) September 11, 2016
In spite of this there is still one thing that has eluded the program more often than not and that’s a natural, gradual rise in the number of wins.
It’s human nature to expect natural progression. When we start a job, a project, or any type of task we expect to get progressively better at it the longer we do it. Coaches, players and fans are no different when it comes to looking for, hoping for and expecting better results as the seasons go by. Two random examples of natural progression came to my mind when I was writing this.
Jimmy Johnson was the first example. Do you remember his rookie season as the head coach of Dallas Cowboys? He took lots of lumps en route to a 1-15 season. In year two he guided Dallas to a 7-9 record. In 1991, his third year, the Cowboys were 11-5. They beat the Chicago Bears 17-13 to give Johnson his first playoff victory before being blown out 38-6 by the Detroit Lions in the Divisional Round.
In 1992 and 1993 the Cowboys were the kings of the NFL. Johnson had taken them from rock bottom to the top of the mountain twice in five years.
The second example that came to my mind was Buddy Hield, the great shooting guard at Oklahoma who was recently drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans. He stayed at Oklahoma all four years. As a freshman he averaged 7.8 points per game, and 16.5 per game as a sophomore. He raised a tad more as a junior to 17.4 per contest and went out in style as a senior to the tune of 25 points a night.
Both examples are classic cases of natural progression. Jimmy Johnson didn’t go to Dallas to go 1-15 every year. Buddy Hield knew he could improve on the 7.8 points per game that he averaged as a freshman. As each man gained experience their results increased.
Mark Stoops didn’t come to Kentucky to go 5-7 and narrowly miss playing in bowl games each year. That is where Kentucky is right now as he kicks off his fourth year in Lexington, a year that began with lots of optimism based on the narrow bowl misses the previous two seasons. All of this makes the 0-2 season all the more perplexing.
The expectations of natural progression are not just limited to Kentucky players, coaches and fans. Lots of SEC and national analysts and experts picked Kentucky to win six or more games and become bowl eligible this season as well as last season. Improved recruiting, new facilities, consecutive close losses to Florida and more experience for Stoops as a head coach provided a seemingly nice formula for securing more wins on the field.
Honestly, six or seven wins isn’t too much to ask, or expect either.
The season isn’t over by any means, but Kentucky has a lot of work to do to turn things around. We’ve have seen them get off to sizzling starts only to have them thwarted by fizzling finishes. Now, the reverse is the case as they will have to overcome a clumsy start out of the gates. It’s not an impossible obstacle to overcome, but it makes achieving success in an always tough SEC even harder. It’s kind of like placing hurdles on a hill.
We’ll find out real soon if the Cats are going to be able to clear them.