This wasn’t what I was looking for when I googled “stretch”… but it is now.
Athlon sports, in preparation for the all-too-rapidly approaching football season, wanted to know the most important stretches for each team in the SEC, and Kentucky’s comes as no surprise. With not many folks holding out hope that the Wildcats will be ultra-competitive in league play, Stoops’ most surmountable challenges are going to come in the non-conference slate. Which of course means that Kentucky’s most important stretch of the season is the first three weeks.
That’s not exactly great news for a team still trying to find it’s identity under the leadership of a brand new coach. A more established staff might have a better idea of what to expect, but there are so many variables with this team that it might have been better to have a conference game or two to start the season before the “easy” games to get the Cats in better form. They’d probably be losses, but at least they’d give the team time to gel before the really important games.
As it is, though, Western Kentucky, Miami (OH), and Louisville are the three biggest weeks of the season, at least in terms of building confidence for the program. And even those games might present a bigger challenge than we’d hoped. As discussed below, Kentucky is already on Week 1 Upset Watch against Petrino’s Hilltoppers, and in their predictions, two of Athlon’s five experts go against the Wildcats. That’s followed by a unanimous Kentucky pick in week 2, but zero of five have us beating Louisville. Even in the discussion of the importance of that stretch, all anybody is asking is for Kentucky to “give Louisville a scare” in the third week to show that we’re a team that’s at least able to compete. What does a “scare” look like? Ten points? Two touchdowns? Striking distance at halftime? I guess a football “scare” is kinda like porn: you just know it when you see it. And if you combine the two you get a “football porn scare,” which I’m pretty sure involves Steve Spurrier.
For better or worse, Kentucky’s most crucial games come at the very beginning of Mark Stoops’ tenure. He’s done a bang-up job so far, and gotten literally everything that we could ask of him. Does a win in two of those three games mark the season as a success (with a presumed win against Alabama State)? Unfortunately, it probably falls in the category of “wouldn’t make the season a success if you win, but would make it a disappointment if you lost.” Those are the worst spots to be in, as a coach, but c’est la vie for Stoops.
We’ll have a substantially better feel for the season by late afternoon on September 14th.