Forgive me for being just a bit euphoric, but after Kentucky’s commanding 35-21 upset road victory over the Missouri Tigers this afternoon, the Wildcats are now officially in contention for the SEC eastern division crown. With an upcoming “sure-win” game with Austin Peay still on the schedule, bowl eligibility is a virtual certainty and the possibility of that long-awaited magical season is beginning to crystallize in the hearts and minds of BBN.
I couldn’t think of a better place to spend an October autumn day watching football than at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri. This stately, open-ended venue holds about 70,000 fans and sits within the forested hills and rolling prairies a couple of hours west of St. Louis. The tailgating was tepid, but what did you expect at 8 o’clock in the morning from the fans of a team in turmoil? The fabulous fall foliage surrounding Memorial Stadium provided for the perfect picturesque backdrop for a long-awaited victory against another SEC foe. Led by Boom William’s 60-yard TD gallop in the first quarter and a Stephen Johnson to Jeff Badet bomb in the second, UK jumped out early and never looked back. When Benny Snell punched it past the goal line for a 21-0 lead, the small but boisterous group of Cat fans who made the trip were left to wonder “who are these guys?” The Kentucky running game was dominant (outgaining Missouri 377-157) and the defense played admirably, keeping the quick-tempo Tiger offense under wraps for most of the afternoon. Much improvement is still needed but this football team looks different than the unit that coughed up big leads, made critical turnovers and gave up huge chunks of yardage earlier this season. Like Coach Stoops, this squad has learned not to flinch and seems headed finally for some much-needed respectability among its SEC brethren.
Long-suffering UK football fans understandably don’t know how to handle prosperity such as this. In order to present everyone with the proper balanced perspective, I’d like to introduce all my loyal readers to two good friends of mine–Mr. Positive and Mr. Negative. Mr. Positive thinks the Cats have finally crossed the threshold of mediocrity and are on their way to consecutive winning seasons for the next decade. Mr. Negative thinks this temporary winning streak is due simply to good luck against bad opponents and will be short lived as always. Mr. Positive thinks UK will win out and will give the Tide a run for their money in the SEC championship game in Atlanta. Mr. Negative predicts a squeaker over Austin Peay as the only bright spot in the impending late-season collapse. Mr. Positive thinks Coach Stoops is the next Nick Saban and is ready to lock him up with another contract extension. Mr. Negative compares Coach Stoops to Mike Dubose and wants to immediately replace him with Bobby Petrino. Mr. Positive is packing for a New Year’s Day bowl game in a tropical locale. Mr. Negative thinks the only travel during bowl season will be with the basketball team.
As for me, I’m siding with Mr. Positive. After all, when the Cats win out, they’ll be 9-3—just like I predicted at the beginning of the season. However, first things first. Next up will be Georgia, a team that knows a lot about firing championship coaches. Having lost four out of the last five, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “rehire Mark Richt” campaign is already percolating between the hedges. The Dawgs aren’t nearly as good as the experts predicted but still have enough elite talent to hang with anyone. A November night game in Commonwealth Stadium with all the crazies awaits and I’ll be there as usual reporting the action. UK 24, UGA 21. Start packing your sunscreen.
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Football Column for Nolan Group Media publications.