When Mark Stoops takes the sideline in Orlando, he will be looking for his elusive first bowl victory as a head coach. After a loss to Georiga Tech in the Tax Slayer Bowl in 2016, and the infamous Music City fiasco last year, Stoops will have to outcoach a familiar foe to do so. That foe is none other than James Franklin.
You Remeber James Franklin, right? If not, you should.
This guy has been a thorn in Kentucky’s side and was one of the centerpieces in Kentucky football’s darkest days. James Franklin was at the helm of the Vanderbilt Commodores from 2011-2013, and he did a remarkable job with his time there. Leading Vanderbilt (yes, VANDERBILT) to back to back nine-win seasons in 2012-13 and Franklin held a 3-0 record against Kentucky.
But, it wasn’t just three easy wins over a Kentucky football program that only won nine games in three seasons, for Franklin. He made sure these losses stung with a relentless attack and by the time he left Vanderbilt, his teams had beaten Kentucky by a total score of 100-14.
The first time James Franklin faced off against the Cats, he made a name for himself right away and solidified Kentucky as the new bar for failure in the SEC East. Kentucky was 4-5 with bowl dreams hanging on by a thread as they rolled into Nashville, but we were hopeful. It’s Vandy for crying out loud. That was until Franklin utterly embarrassed a Joker Phillips lead Kentucky team 38-8, and had it not been for Matt Roark’s heroics against Tennesee that’s the lasting impression for the 2011 season. But, Franklin would capitalize on the next chance to leave a lasting image in Kentucky football infamy.
Yes, I’m talking about THAT game.
This was undoubtedly the lowest point in our Kentucky football lifetimes. Kentucky was 1-8, Joker Phillips tenure was inevitably coming to a close. It was rainy, it was cold, and Commonwealth Stadium was a ghost town. Then, James Franklin smacked Kentucky with their worst loss of the season in a 40-0 defeat that would put the nail in the coffin for Joker Phillips’ time at Kentucky.
This is the game we always measure for how far this Kentucky program has come since the two-win seasons, but Franklin wasn’t done embarrassing the Cats just yet.
It was Stoops first season as head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, and we all knew what kind of a season was in store. We just had to get through it with glimpses of hope sprinkled throughout the year. Kentucky competed in Nashville this time around after being blown out the two seasons prior, only losing 22-6 in 2013.
But, on fourth and four on Kentucky’s 13-yard line, Vanderbilt was up 15-6 with 55 seconds to play. Most coaches spare the embarrassment and the sheer audacity and just kick the field goal or take a knee. Instead, Franklin trots his offense onto the field and runs a trick jump pass that results in Vanderbilt’s tight end to waltz in for an unnecessary touchdown. Embarrassing.
Kentucky looked like a dumpster fire, with a blocked extra point, a horrible fake field goal call by a learning Stoops, and Kentucky just didn’t have the talent or physicality to matchup with Vanderbilt. It was no secret who the better team was, but that touchdown was breaking a cardinal rule, and Stoops didn’t seem too pleased with Franklin in 2013. After the game, Stoops had a ‘lengthy discussion’ with Franklin about that touchdown.
Fast Foward five years later, Franklin is doing great things at Powerhouse Penn State while Stoops has built Kentucky into a respectable program and lead Kentucky to their best season in 41 years.
Come One O’clock on New Year’s day, not only will Kentucky be playing in the most important bowl game in 20 years; Kentucky will be playing to eradicate another demon from their haunted past by defeating James Franklin, a man who was at the centerpiece of Kentucky’s lowest point.