In 1986, comedic legend Rodney Dangerfield starred in the classic film Back to School. Dangerfield starred as Thornton Mellon, a wealthy businessman that goes back to college with his son to get the degree he never got. Hijinks ensue. With the 2019-20 school year upon us, the University of Kentucky Football Wildcats are heading back to school. And just like Rodney, the can’t get no respect.
To be sure, there are going to be challenges for this year’s Wildcats like there are for every Kentucky football team. This group will have to replace to all-time greats on both sides of the ball with Benny Snell, Jr. and Josh Allen leading an exodus of former Cats to the NFL. And head coach Mark Stoops will be hard pressed to repeat last year’s 10 win season. However, that shouldn’t mean the Cats can’t or won’t be bowl eligible this year.
With the pundits putting their preseason rankings lists out, time after time, we see the Wildcats are getting disrespected. USA today says that Toledo, Kentucky’s first opponent, is better. SEC pundits have Kentucky only winning one or two conference games this year. Ordinarily, I don’t pay attention to such prognostications, but there just seems to be something ridiculously disrespectful this go-round.
Since he arrived in Lexington, Mark Stoops has either maintained his win total from the previous year or improved. Only a handful of coaches have done that. People forget that neither Snell nor Allen were highly rated recruits. This Wildcat staff is on par with any in the country when it comes to spotting and developing talent. The recruiting has been the best the Big Blue Nation has seen with the Wildcats now boasting SEC level talent two to three deep at every position. The fear of a drop off from last year’s team shouldn’t be that great.
An entire South Carolina recruiting class has been recruited and exhausted its eligibility without beating Kentucky. The days of the Tennessee Volunteers running roughshod over Kentucky are over (*yes, I know, last year’s game was cover-your-eyes awful). Kentucky won in Columbia against Mizzou last year. The Cats won in Gainesville. The Cats beat Vandy. The Cats manhandled Mississippi State. The Cats took Texas A&M to overtime in College Station. While it’s clear that past success doesn’t determine future success, it’s clear that the Wildcat football program is no longer the doormat of the SEC.
Most people are slow to adapt to change. And college football talking heads aren’t any different. But with nearly six years of evidence, it’s clear that this Kentucky program is changing. It IS different. While I have no doubt that Coach Stoops and his staff love the idea of everyone picking against them (is there a more definitive sports team trope than the “nobody believes in us!” trope?). It would be nice to finally get a little bit of respect for a job well done. Even Rodney Dangerfield got some respect.