By: Michele Brown
Just three short years ago, Kentucky Football fans were wondering if Coach Mark Stoops would be able to build a program that could make it to bowl games on a consistent basis. Countless times, I heard fans say, “If only we could get to 7 wins a season on a regular basis and play in bowl games each year, I would be ecstatic.”
Fast-forward to the beginning of the 2018 season fresh off of back-to-back 7-win seasons and consecutive bowl appearances and the BBN was now wondering if the Cats would ever “get over the hump” and start winning against the top tier teams in the SEC. Then a marvelous thing happened: The Cats did start winning and one by one, the humps were crossed. A season in which many fans had hoped for 7 wins at the beginning of the year steadily turned into a great season with the Cats at one time in contention for winning the SEC East. When the dust settled, UK ended up finishing 2nd in the East but they did have a 9-3 record to show for their efforts. Yes, a great season had been accomplished. But…
Either some fans didn’t comprehend the magnitude of 9 wins to the Kentucky program or they changed their expectations so drastically during the season that they were no longer happy or excited about this achievement. Maybe it was a combination of the two things. Whatever it was, they continued to diminish every victory and have tried to make a very successful season seem like it was nothing remarkable.
Wins over non-conference foes Central Michigan, Murray State, and Middle Tennessee State? But we’re supposed to beat those teams anyway, so it’s no big deal. It wasn’t all that long ago that winning our non-conference games wasn’t a given. It should be noted as a big deal that the Cats took care of business in those contests.
Beating Florida in The Swamp, ending a 31-year winning streak? But Florida is really “down” this year so it’s not that big of a deal. This one puzzles me to no end. Florida had several down years during that 31-year period and we could never beat them. Finally winning and doing so on their field is a supremely big deal. And perhaps Florida’s year wasn’t as bad as some fans seem to think it was as they finished with a 9-3 record.
Surely dominating Mississippi State, then #17, had to be a big win, right? Well, for a few days it was and then...But they are really overrated. An 8-4 team that averaged allowing only 12 points that the Cats scored 24 on seems pretty strong to me, but as the season went on, many fans continued to devalue this victory.
South Carolina has to count for something. But we’ve beaten them 5 years in a row so this means nothing.
Then the loss to Texas A&M at Kyle Field, arguably one of the toughest venues to play. The Cats took them to overtime but ended up with their first loss of the season. But it’s the same ol‘ Kentucky! Can’t win on the road when it matters! You do realize, of course, that the “same ol’ Kentucky” would never have made it to overtime and would have folded early in the 3rd quarter. And losing to an 8-4 team does not qualify as a “bad loss.”
Missouri on the road? But we looked terrible and we just got lucky. Holding Mizzou’s high-octane offense to ZERO first downs in the 2nd half is not just lucky. That requires some serious defensive execution. And how many times over the years have the Cats had a game in hand only to have the most bizarre of plays happen, a play with a 1 in 973,274 chance of occurring, happens and defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory? If those counted as losses, then the Missouri “lucky” game certainly counts as a win.
Don’t think for a second a victory over Vanderbilt would impress those fans. But we got lucky that our defense bailed us out! Can you believe all the luck Kentucky has had this year? And fans are unhappy about that? I say “It’s about time!”
All of that “luck”, all of those “way overrated” opponents, the sheer fortune of our “defense bailing us out,” and anything other than being a good team that was coached well resulted in the improbable game in November when Kentucky would face Georgia to determine the winner of the SEC East. For a few magical days, the BBN got behind the Wildcats and poured into Kroger Field daring to believe the Cats could beat the Dawgs. Unfortunately, UGA’s talent was too great and their experience in playing in “big” games couldn’t be overcome and UK had to settle for a 2nd place finish. But this is what we expected! This team is just not good. This whole season was smoke and mirrors! Somehow, having a 10-win season still on the table was a travesty.
Then it happened: the game. The kind of game that every college football team not named Alabama or Clemson experiences every year. One of those “what on earth was that?” kind of games where the mental mistakes, missed tackles, and poor offensive execution leaves fans scratching their heads for weeks. Worse, it happened at Tennessee and a good number of the BBN had traveled south to witness this debacle in person. OK, so we had one truly bad loss. But it was to Tennessee! They are the worst of the worst this year. There is NO excuse for that and I am DONE with this team! Disappointment, yeah, I get that. Frustration? I share in that as well. But to be done with a team that had done so many great things all year, including having a winning SEC record for the first time in over 30 years? Maybe it’s just me, but that seems kind of harsh.
So the Cats arrived at Cardinal Stadium last weekend with an 8-3 record and a chance to get 9 wins for the first time since <gasp> 1977. Stoops’ Troops did exactly what they were supposed to do: they dominated Louisville from the beginning and ended up winning 56-10 to tie a nice bow on the end of the regular season. But Louisville is the worst defense in the world! This is nothing to get excited about! AND they LOST TO TENNESSEE!
Perhaps it’s time to remove all the “buts” that fans want to add to the victories. Maybe enjoy what truly was a magical season, even with a loss to Tennessee. How about appreciating the rarity of this season as it was only the 3rd time in 68 years the Cats could put together 9 victories? Why not celebrate being ranked in the Top 25 for more weeks in this one season than we had been ranked in the past decade (or longer)? Why not take a moment to grasp that, for the past 6 seasons, in all of college football, there has been exactly ONE team that has equaled or improved their win-loss record in each season: Kentucky.
Let go of the disappointment of the Tennessee loss and appreciate the incredible things that Josh Allen did this season while setting the school record and single-season record for sacks. Give thanks for the recovery from surgery and treatment for cancer that Josh Paschal endured this season. Relive the joy you felt when “Snell Yeah” was at a fever pitch. Don’t let one very bad game erase a season full of great accomplishments. And be ready to cheer for win #10 when the Cats go bowling.
There’s still a little bit left to this ride. Please enjoy it!
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