Let me start out by saying that I am a former student of the University of Kentucky and would like nothing more than for them to win every game in every sport, especially football (unless they play my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes). But when a team that had been a perennial doormat in the SEC East all of a sudden becomes a respectable team by going to three straight bowl games, it is natural for expectations to be elevated.
The problem becomes that while seeing the team continue to improve over the last few years, the view of those expectations can become skewed. There is a fine line between being a fan with high hopes about the potential of this year's team and being totally delusional to the state of the Wildcats compared to the rest of the teams in not only the SEC, but in all of the FBS.
Here are a few quotes I have seen posted on the Internet and on the local news broadcasts after the 31-27 win over in-state rival Louisville:
"After today's game, the rest of the nation needs to look out because we proved we are a Top Ten team."
"The Wildcats are now a legitimate SEC contender."
"UK showed that they belong in the conversation with the elite of the SEC."
"After seeing how Florida struggled with Tennessee, Kentucky's win over Louisville proves that the Gators may be in trouble next week."
While all of these are meant with the best of intentions and show how deep the love is of the fans, I don't think that Kentucky's 2-0 record warrants a total overhaul of the SEC football pecking order just yet. Beating two teams that you are suppose to beat does not a automatically make one a Juggernaut.
Kentucky beat a Miami, OH team that lost its first two games by a combined 90-0, and didn't score its first points until the third quarter of their third game. The RedHawks still lost that third game 48-26 after the other team called off the dogs in the fourth quarter. Doesn't make UK's rout on a neutral field look as impressive as it once did.
The Wildcats then struggled at home to hold off a very game Louisville team for the Governor's Cup. This is the same Cardinals team that was picked to finish seventh in a less than stellar Big East. Hard to see how barely beating a team lead by a freshman quarterback that is suppose to finish second to last in their own conference can elicit such thoughts of greatness.
If you look at Kentucky's next four games, there are rough waters ahead. Up next is No. 1 Florida followed by No. 4 Alabama, both of whom will came to Lexington. After that, the Cats go on a two game road trip to face the Steve Spurrier coached South Carolina Gamecocks and then to battle the much improved Auburn Tigers that currently have a record of 3-0. It is a a very real possibility that they could be 2-4 after this stretch, leaving the Big Blue Nation to wonder what happened to that supposed great start.
The fans need to listen to the cliches that most coaches and players spew in just about every interview, you need to focus on the next game and don't worry about the rankings or the rest of the season. Top ranked Florida coming to town next week is a daunting task in and of itself. There are a lot more pressing matters to worry about than the national perception or the votes of the pollsters.
Worry about the defense and its poor tackling effort against the Cards.
Worry about taking care of the ball after a three turnover quarter.
Worry about a game plan to slow down Tim Tebow.
Worry about how to keep the offense moving and putting points on the board against the Gators.
The Wildcat should win the four games following the tilt against the Tigers. Even if they don't pull out another victory until they face Louisiana-Monroe, they should be bowl eligible at 6-4 going into the final games against Georgia and Tennessee. So even if they don't live up to the hype and praise being heaped on them after their 2-0 start, it looks like Head Coach Rich Brooks should be poised to take this team to an unprecedented fourth consecutive bowl game.
If Kentucky comes out a plays up to their potential, they can be a handful for anyone in the SEC, even Florida. However, the fans need to realize not only how good their beloved Big Blue can be, but realize how good their opponents are as well. It may not be politically correct in Lexington to say that UK may not quite be ready to take over as the top dog just yet, but there is still more to prove.
I just hope that Big Blue Nation can take a deep breath and be happy with this team, no matter how things turn out over the rest of the season. As much as I would like to see an undefeated season, I can take a step back at see what the Cats are truly up against and know it is unlikely. It will take winning a few of these next four games will go a long towards making UK look like the team that these fans are gushing about. Should Kentucky end up 5-1 or even 6-0 at the conclusion of the Auburn game, I will gladly order a jug of that Big Blue Kool-Aid.
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