Nobody can argue that Kentucky has generally been near the bottom of the SEC football standings in the last 25 years. Some years they pop up into bowl eligibility, but they have yet to finish in the Top 3 of the SEC East standings since the league moved to a 2-division setup in the early 1990’s. So, I don’t write this with the attitude that Kentucky is somehow superior in football than anyone. But let’s be honest, more often than not, we are superior to Vanderbilt. Until the last 2 years, when Vanderbilt has blasted UK by 30 or more points. Last year’s game in Lexington was no doubt the low point in the Joker Phillips era. James Franklin seems to have Vandy at the point where Rich Brooks had Kentucky. Competitive, good enough to keep the fans happy, be bowl eligible most years, and not really compete with the SEC elite but also not get embarrassed by them either.
Generally, Kentucky has always been able to say it had a better football program than Vanderbilt. They were always the team on the schedule UK knew it could be more often than not. No matter how bad it got, it was worse at Vanderbilt. But all of the sudden, Vanderbilt likely looks at Kentucky that way. And Franklin appears to have that program to a point where they have staying power. Which brings me to this point:
Let’s move away from Vandy and look at Missouri.
Yes, the Tigers beat Kentucky last year. But so did everybody else. The reason I say Missouri could be the new Vanderbilt is trajectory. The Tigers entered the SEC last year after years of decent to high success in the Big 12. Hell, just a couple years ago they were a Big 12 title game away from the national championship game. But all the of the talent from that team is gone and the Tiger program has slid since then. 2010: 10-3, 2011: 8-5, 2012: 5-7. 10 wins to 8 wins to 5 wins. That is not the direction you want to see a program moving. We saw a similar direction under Joker. We know this feeling.
But the SEC hit the Tigers hard last year. 2-6 in league play. Lost by 21 to Georgia, lost by 21 to South Carolina, lost by 32 to Alabama, lost by 30 to Texas A&M. They had a bunch of scores that were similar to UK scores. Clearly feasting on the Texas Tech’s and Kansas’ of the Big 12 didn’t quite fly in the SEC. And there is no end in sight for the Tigers. They, like Kentucky, have to play Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina every single year. And now Vandy is solid and Butch Jones will likely make Tennessee decent again. And of course we know what Mark Stoops has brewing in Lexington.
But, where it really is showing is in recruiting. For their first SEC class, Missouri ranked 13th out of 14 in the conference, 36th in the nation. For the Class of 2014, Missouri is currently 13th out of 14 in the conference and 49th in the nation. Those kinds of classes will get you beat and get you beat BAD in the Southeastern Conference. According to scout.com, Missouri does not have a single 4-star committment as of right now. Kentucky already has FIVE. Missouri is not getting it done on the field and they are not getting it done on the recruiting trail. That used to be what we said about Vanderbilt, but I think it’s all about Missouri now.
It used to be a loss to Vanderbilt was an embarrassment. They were the one SEC team UK fans expected to beat every year. That is no longer the case. UK should still beat Vanderbilt often, but it should not be a foregone conclusion. We should now shift our attention to Missouri, the new whipping boy of the SEC. (Once UK gets out of the cellar)