These eyes have seen a lot of University of Kentucky football through the years – some good, a lot of it mediocre and far too much of it, awful.
These ears have heard the plaintive cries of UK fans throughout the decades, as well…
“WHY?... does this always happen to us?”
“WHAT?... is it going to take before we get a decent football program?”
“WHEN?... will it ever end?”
Those questions appear to have been answered.
It always happened because usually, the opponents were better. They had better players, kids who, not unlike UK basketball players, knew they would find a way to win. Plus, far too often the Wildcats would beat themselves.
What it takes to build a decent program is getting more of those good players, yourself – which is what Mark Stoops and company have done.
And that’s why the answer to question number three (When?) is, “Now.” Or it least, it appears that way.
For the first time in more than 40 years, UK football fans will queue up on Saturday afternoons to see if their favorite team can come close to matching the giddy heights it reached the season before. In 1978, it flopped.
Derrick Ramsey, Art Still and a plethora of talented teammates rolled to a 10-1 record in 1977. But they moved on (many to the NFL) after that, leaving behind a roster undermined by recruitment that had been weakened by NCAA-induced penalties.
The 1984 Wildcats won nine games, including a bowl, but Jerry Claiborne’s teams never came close to that kind of success again.
Stoops led the Cats to double-digit victories last season and, it says here, will flirt with similar success in 2019. Here’s how it’s going to happen:
Game 1 – Toledo, Aug. 31
The Rockets’ pass-happy offense will seriously (maybe severely) test Kentucky’s young defensive secondary. Lessons will be learned. But Toledo’s defense was lacking last season and will not be able to stop Terry Wilson, Lynn Bowden and a three-headed beast of an offensive backfield. WINNER – Kentucky
Game 2 – Eastern Michigan, Sept. 7
EMU will be the second consecutive team from the Mid-America Conference to visit Kroger Field. Like Toledo, it will feature a strong-armed QB, Mike Glass III, who threw for more than a thousand yards in fewer than eight games, in a season limited by injury. But he’ll be playing behind an almost entirely new offensive line, meaning the UK defensive front should make his evening miserable. WINNER – Kentucky
Game 3 – Florida, Sept. 14
The Gators looked vulnerable against a so-so Miami team on opening day. However, they (and the Wildcats) will have two games behind them when they meet up, so both teams should be sharper than what they showed in their respective openers. Felipe Franks is a big, talented QB who can throw and run. Florida’s D-line spent much of the night in the Hurricanes’ offensive backfield. But UK will provide better competition than The U. The Cats will make it an incredible two straight over the Gators. WINNER – Kentucky
Game 4 – Mississippi State, Sept. 21
Time was, a trip to Starkville for a football game could be challenging, depending on the relative strengths of the two teams. But Davis Wad Stadium used to be an open-air facility, meaning whatever noise the Bulldog faithful could generate would go drifting off into the surrounding pastures. Not anymore. There’s a genuine home-field advantage there now, thanks to recent success generated by Dan Mullen, who moved on to take the top job in Gainesville. The Cats physically whipped the Dogs last year on both lines and Benny Snell dominated. It’ll be tough to get a follow-up victory. WINNER – Mississippi State
Game 5 – South Carolina, Sept. 28
A second-straight road trip will find the Cats in Columbia, where they’ve won each of the past two times, part of a five-game win streak over the Gamecocks. This matchup will feature an SC team coming off first, a home game with Alabama and then a road trip to Missouri. That could take its toll, but the old adage about how tough it is to beat a team X-amount of times in a row could take hold here. WINNER – South Carolina
Game 6 – Arkansas. Oct. 12
After an open date (handy, no matter where they fall on the schedule) the Wildcats will be re-energized and ready to shake off back-to-back losses. A helping of Hog will be just what they need. Arkansas has a long way to climb to get anywhere near the top of the SEC West, which it last won back in 2006. WINNER – Kentucky
Game 7 – Georgia, Oct. 19
The Bulldogs are everyone’s pick (mine, too) to win not only the East, but the SEC championship, unseating Alabama. That’s why their afternoon between the hedges will be a rough one for the Cats. WINNER – Georgia
Game 8 – Missouri, Oct. 26
The Tigers will come to town on the second leg of a three-game road string – off a probable win at Vanderbilt and ahead of a likely beat-down at Georgia. Pundits are excited about Mizzou because of Clemson QB transfer Kelly Bryant. UK fans should recall the job the Missouri defense did against the Wildcat offense last season in Columbia. This is a real swing game, one that could be the difference if it comes to Kentucky making a second-straight New Year’s Day bowl. WINNER – Missouri
Game 9 – Tennessee, Nov. 9
After another open date (this one perfectly placed), the Wildcats will shake off the loss to Mizzou by earning revenge over a Volunteer team that embarrassed Kentucky last season in Knoxville. The Cats were better but never really showed up for the game, emotionally or mentally. Both faculties will be fully engaged on this day. WINNER – Kentucky
Game 10 – Vanderbilt, Nov. 16
Kentucky usually travels well to the Music City, whether it’s for a bowl game or a regularly-scheduled matchup with the Commodores. Vandy has athletes, but not enough. Still, UK has to show up and play at its best or risk laying an egg, like the one it dropped in 2015, one of the most damaging losses in the Stoops era. It kept the Wildcats out of a bowl game. WINNER – Kentucky
Game 11 – Tennessee-Martin, Nov. 23
Ohio Valley Conference teams have come to Lexington and made life difficult for the Cats; they’ve also been victims of some epic blowouts. This UK team should know itself well enough by then to fashion an easy victory. WINNER – Kentucky
Game 12 – Louisville, Nov. 30
Scott Satterfield might be the man to reverse the fortunes of the Cardinals, who less than three years ago were in the hunt for a national title. He won’t get it done all in one season and the Wildcats should follow up on last year’s blowout with another victory, although perhaps not quite as dominating. WINNER – Kentucky
That’s the road map – eight wins plus (why not?) another in the bowl game for a final worksheet of 9-4.
Most Possible Reversals: a loss to Florida (the Gators are better than they were last season); a win at South Carolina (the Gamecocks, it says here, don’t seem to be worth their pre-season hype yet); a win at Mississippi State (Dogs offense could be potent with grad transfer QB Tommy Stevens and RB Kylin Hill, but tough to replace Montez Sweat and Jeffrey Simmons on defense).
Eight, nine or 10 wins -- bottom line is, we’ll all be watching Kentucky football through December. Basketball can wait.