On Tuesday night, on ESPN, the College Football Playoff Committee released its first rankings for the 2018 season. For the first time, the University of Kentucky Wildcats were ranked. Head coach Mark Stoops found his team ranked #9 in the rankings, sandwiched between Washington State Cougars (#8) and The Ohio State Buckeyes (#10). Yes, there’s still games left to play, starting with Kentucky hosting the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, but in a season with a lot of program milestones, seeing the Cats listed on the playoff rankings has got to be one of the biggest.
For Mark Stoops, who left Florida State to take over a program that was as low as it’s ever been, there’s vindication. His method of program building has been slow. He hasn’t been flashy. There were improvements made to the facilities. Recruiting has been steadily getting better. Every year he’s either maintained his win total from the year before or improved on it. There have been bumps in the road. There have been losses that should have been wins, decisions that should have gone the other way. As the calendar now flips to November 2018, it’s hard to argue that his plan has been anything but a success.
This is for the players, current and past. Players that were overlooked like Benny Snell, Jr. Snell grew up an Ohio State fan and the Buckeyes overlooked him. When he’s done playing, his name will be all over the Kentucky record book and he’ll put his name among the elite rushers in the SEC. Josh Allen, a two star recruit who has transformed himself into one of the most dominating defensive players in the country. This is for Kash Daniel who plays with the heart and soul of Eastern Kentucky. Who won’t let a broken hand keep him from playing. This is for CJ Conrad who’s hard work was rewarded by the opportunity to have his number called in the biggest game of the year… and he delivered. This is for Lynn Bowden, Jr. that caught all 13 balls thrown to him against Missouri and took his only punt return of the year for a much needed touchdown. This is for Terry Wilson, who followed up two subpar games with a gutsy performance against Mizzou that will go down in Kentucky lore… just a month after beating Florida in Gainesville.
We all wish Kentucky Football had more wins than losses on its ledger, but this is for the former players that helped set the table and lay the foundation on which the Wildcat program sits. This is for you.
This is for the fans. This is for every member of Big Blue Nation that has watched the team get blown out or lose a heartbreaker. This is for every the Kentucky Football team was used as some punchline. This is for the fans that filed into Commonwealth Stadium?Kroger Field week after week. This is the reward for all of it. The Cats have made it to this point, the point of respectability. Savor this moment because it’s been 40 years in the making. Enjoy it, you’ve earned in BBN.
The season isn’t over. The Wildcats still have work to do, beginning this Saturday as the Kentucky hosts Georgia with the winner becoming the SEC East champion. Maybe the Cats win, maybe they won’t. With Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and Louisville remaining, the Cats have the chance to hit the 10 regular season win plateau for the first time in a long time. Stoops has the program moving in the right direction.
In 2017, Kentucky put up a poster in the football complex, a College Football Playoff bracket with Kentucky filled in as a participant. The question on top of the poster asked: “What have to done to get better today?” Outsiders laughed and mocked. Even the most diehard Big Blue fans had to wonder if it was too much. Should Kentucky football be aiming that high? Now, for a moment, we can see the realization of the dream that Coach Stoops and AD Mitch Barnhart had. Kentucky Football is among the best teams in the country. What was once crazy talk has now become real talk. Can the Kentucky Wildcats crash the College Football Playoff? Why not? We’re not even supposed to be here.