Two years ago, not including the BBVA Compass Bowl loss against Pittsburgh, the Kentucky football team outscored their opponents by a score of 396-342 on the 2010 season. UK’s point differential in the 2010 season shows that they were actually slightly better than a 6-6 team. The results of the season were disappointing, especially the way it ended in consecutive losses to Tennessee and Pittsburgh in the bowl game, but at least the team was competitive in the nation’s best conference and exciting to watch in 2010.
It took a last second field goal for Cam Newton’s team, the eventual National Champions, to escape Lexington that season with a 37-34 win. The following week, the Cats finally ended the streak over Steve Spurrier, knocking off the 10th ranked Gamecocks 31-28. The Cats were competitive in every single game in 2011, with the sole exception of a 48-14 loss at Florida. Under Rich Brooks, the Cats routinely took care of business in the non-conference schedule against lesser opponents, which continued in Joker’s first year. UK defeated Western Kentucky 63-28 in 2010. In 2011, however, the Hilltoppers gave Kentucky all they wanted down in Nashville, and UK barely escaped with a 14-3 win.
In 2011, UK’s record shows they were only a game worse than 2010, but their point differential says they were very lucky to even come close to five wins. The Cats were out-scored by over 100 points in the 2011 season (296-190). Looking back on 2011, five wins is not terrible for a program that is expected to win no more than six in a season, but what was disappointing about 2012 was how terrible the majority of the seven losses were. The Cats were not competitive in the majority of SEC games (with losing scores of 54-3, 48-10, 38-8, and 35-7) and for the first time since prior to 2006, Kentucky football was not very fun to watch until things turned around towards the end of the season.
To win back the fans and have the continued support of the administration, Joker Phillips must have his team more prepared to play competitive football every week in the SEC in 2012. It is unfair to say that Joker needs to win a certain number of games, or make a bowl game, or beat Louisville, because they could win the same number of games this season as they did last, yet still be much improved and way more competitive than they were last season. UK football needs to be fun to watch again and they need to be improved and much more competitive than a year ago, but not necessarily judged by reaching an “X” amount of wins, at least this season.
If young players like Max Smith (or Pat Towles) and Josh Clemons can stay healthy and improve the overall competitiveness of the team in 2012, there would be reason for optimism for the future under Joker Phillips.