The Kentucky Wildcats are Tournament Hungry and Bowl Bound

Jimmy SmithCorrespondent INovember 4, 2008

Gas in Kentucky has dipped to under $2.  $2?!  Yes, $2. 

It feels like 1998 again.  Wait, that was the last time Kentucky won a national championship!  Good Lord, has it been that long?  Damn you, Tubby!  Hold on—it really isn't that bad...

Kentucky started last year's season with a half tank of gas.  Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks were both injured.  The Wildcats had only one viable option in the front court, and Alex Legion transferred after six games. 

Kentucky lost to Florida in early January to go 7-9 on the season—quite embarrassing for a program who prides itself on tradition.  After the Florida game, Billy Gillispie made a pit stop. 

Kentucky strung together ten straight wins, and many national pundits who had written the Wildcats dead then looked at Kentucky as a possible NCAA Tournament team.  Kentucky used up a lot of their gas as freshman superstar Patrick Patterson went down with a season-ending injury with just three games left. 

Kentucky's seniors Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley made it into the NCAA Tournament only to be ousted early by Marquette.  Kentucky was finally out of gas.

Or were they?  Many national writers have written off Kentucky for this season.  Let's face it—why wouldn't they?  Kentucky lost two of their top scorers (Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley), and lost another starter to transfer (Derrick Jasper - UNLV).  O ye of little faith. 

Kentucky returns Patrick Patterson, a favorite for SEC player of the year, superstar guard Jodie Meeks, and a host of new talent that has Billy Gillispie drooling at the mouth. 

Kentucky now has front court talent to play with Patterson.  Perry Stevenson turned it on in the last five games of last season.  Josh Harrellson, a sophomore transfer, has all of the making to be a good, productive player.  Ramon Harris, a great defender, has reportedly improved vastly over the off season, something that really help Kentucky. 

Freshman guard DeAndre Liggins has the size and potential to be an All-SEC performer one day for the Cats. Freshman Darius Miller has the potential to be a great player for the Cats as well. 

Kentucky oozes potential this year, and while Louisville will get all of the attention this season, Gillispie is slowing putting this $2 gas into tank. Watch out—it's almost full.

Talking about a program who really had no gas at all is Kentucky football in 2005.  However, Rich Brooks filled up the tank as much as he could midway through the 2006 season.  Ever since then, Kentucky has been like mid-size sedan running on SUV power. 

Kentucky is now bowl eligible. That's right, Kentucky is bowl eligible for the third straight season.  Let's think about this.

This is the same Kentucky program that was on probation from the 2002 season until 2004.  This is the same Kentucky program that has had its heart crushed time and time again against the big boys of the SEC. 

This is the same Kentucky program that has not been to three straight bowl games since the early 1950s when legendary coach Bear Bryant was at the helm.  This is the same Kentucky program that had its fans wanting their head coach fired midway through the 2006 season after a crushing 49-0 loss at LSU.

What in the heck happened to the Wildcats?  I'll give you five solid reasons why Kentucky is where they are today:

1. Defeated Georgia in 2006.  

The goalposts came down and Kentucky realized they can beat the big boys in the SEC.  Most of the Kentucky players on that team recognized that this jump started the string of success.


2. Andre Woodson stepped up.  

Woodson might go down in Kentucky history as their best quarterback when it is all said and done.  His production at the end of 2006 and the entire 2007 season really made Kentucky a strong opponent in each game. 

I know he didn't put up numbers like Couch or Lorenzen, but he won two bowl games and set the bar for future UK teams to follow.


3. Recruiting. 

Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips have done well not only getting top tier recruits, but evaluating talent.  Think about this: Wesley Woodyard came to UK as a safety and Keenan Burton came to UK as a quarterback. 

Joker single handedly signed Micah Johnson and Corey Peters in 2006.  Now, Kentucky has commitments from five-star quarterback Morgan Newton and four-star quarterback Ryan Mossakowski.


4. Scheduling.  

Rich Brooks was very smart at the end of the 2005 season.  He started scheduling cupcakes for his schedule each of the next three seasons.  Kentucky would not have gone bowling if it wasn't for a winnable schedule.  Kentucky played Florida, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Louisville in 2006. 

All went bowling and Kentucky only defeated Georgia.  So they got three other victories in the non-conference from Texas State, Central Michigan, and Louisiana Monroe to go with SEC victories over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.


5. Fan Support. 

Throughout the past three seasons, Kentucky's fan support has been phenomenal.  Kentucky has sold out Commonwealth multiple times, and has really had great support in Nashville for both of the bowl games.


So, Kentucky fans, be excited about the opportunity to play in yet another bowl game.  Yes, Kentucky may not have the offense that was explosive in 2006 and 2007, but they have the heart and desire to win.  With three games (Georgia, Vanderbilt, at Tennessee) remaining, we need to rally behind this team.

Kentucky has a viable shot at the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta...I mean Catlanta.  Returning to Nashville for the Music City Bowl won't be that bad either.  Forget those haters in Louisville—they are just jealous that they do not have a team worth mentioning anymore. 

While basketball season may have started, the football team still has a lot of gas left in their tank.


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