Three games into the season, Rich Brooks and his Kentucky Wildcats quietly sit undefeated and on pace for a third consecutive bowl appearance.
Even though six games does not guarantee a bowl invitation (see South Carolina last season), one would think the wildly enthusiastic Wildcat fans will travel in mass to anywhere around the country, making a bowl invite at six wins likely.
But as Kentucky prepares to enter SEC play, one should not assume the Cats will be bowling again this winter.
That’s not to say Kentucky is not in position for another good year. The defense is ranked in the top 20 nationally in several defensive categories, including total defense, scoring defense, rush defense, and red zone defense.
Big Blue marched into Papa John’s Stadium, a place they had not won in six years, and crushed Louisville 27-2. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Mike Hartline has not thrown an interception and has made few mistakes that have cost the Wildcats.
But all is not rosy for Kentucky. The offense has been plagued with inconsistent play from the wide receiver position, which is not surprising due to the extreme lack of experience in the receiving corps.
More troubling, the rush offense has yet to take off despite a wealth of talent and experience in the backfield. Senior running back Tony Dixon has been especially slow to make an impression this year.
Along with offensive woes, something foreign to Kentucky the past few years, injuries have begun to hamper Big Blue. Starting middle linebacker Micah Johnson and defensive lineman Ricky Lumpkin suffered ankle injuries that will keep them out against Western Kentucky this weekend.
Backup quarterback and true freshman Randall Cobb also suffered an ankle injury against MTSU that will sideline him for the next month. Cobb adds a big play factor to the Wildcat offense, and without him on the field, the Wildcat offense at times will be paralyzed.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the Wildcats returning to a bowl is the SEC itself. In case you haven’t noticed, the SEC is really good.
Kentucky will play currently ranked teams Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and (wait for it) Vanderbilt over the course of SEC play, along with tough road contests at Mississippi State and Tennessee.
That leaves home games against South Carolina and Arkansas, and the coaches of those two respective teams (Spurrier and Petrino) have never lost to Kentucky.
The Cats MUST defeat Western Kentucky this weekend and find a way to get, at the very least, two SEC victories to go bowling once more.
If Kentucky is to find postseason success, they must do three things: 1) find consistency in the wide receiving corps, 2) thrive at the running game, and 3) avoid any devastating injuries, particularly to the defense.
Kentucky may very well play in December once more, but the next three victories will be infinitely more difficult to secure than the first three.