When the Kentucky Wildcats' 2013 schedule was released, one couldn't help but see the gauntlet Mark Stoops would have to face in his first season as a head coach.
You had to wince as it virtually jumped right off of the page at you.
The most brutal stretch in the schedule for UK was Louisville, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama—four consecutive games against teams who began the season ranked in the Top 10.
Historically this spells disaster, since Kentucky had usually offered little resistance against these opponents in the recent past.
Remember the last time UK was in Columbia, they were destroyed 54-3.
No matter the result of the Alabama game on Oct. 12, Kentucky can hold its head up high at the way it has fought and kept these games competitive.
Let's focus on the core three of Louisville, Florida and South Carolina, since the 'Cats don't face Alabama on a yearly basis.
After the tough loss to South Carolina on Oct. 5, Kentucky's combined margin of defeat to the Cardinals (27-13), Gators (24-7) and Gamecocks (35-28) was 38.
The 38-0 beating they received at The Swamp on Sept. 22, 2012 matched that by itself.
Last season's combined margin of defeat to these same three teams was 77. Kentucky lost by an average score of 36-15.
The offense sputtered against Louisville and Florida; the defense hung in as best it could.
At South Carolina, both units got off to slow starts, but got it going in the second half. Little by little, Coach Stoops and the Wildcats are making strides.
It started at the quarterback position.
Mark Stoops announces Jalen whitlow will start— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) October 5, 2013
This will be a season-long debate as quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith both bring different things to the table. There are still some who would like to see Patrick Towles in there as well.
It was good to see the staff pick someone and roll with him. Whitlow played well too, completing 17-of-24 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina.
Alabama may come to Commonwealth Stadium and completely dismantle Kentucky.
The last two times UK faced the Crimson Tide that wasn't the case. Alabama won 17-14 in Tuscaloosa in 2008 and 38-20 in Lexington in 2009.
Even if does get ugly this time around, Oscar Combs (as always) sums it up best.
Observations from tonite's game: Guarantee you not a single UK recruit was discouraged by UK effort or worried about future of UK program.— Oscar Combs (@wildcatnews) October 6, 2013
Mark Stoops and his Wildcats have already performed better than we thought and it's easy to see how he's got things headed in the right direction.