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Kentucky’s Next Bowl Game: It Doesn’t Have To Take 2-3 Years

Ole Miss was 2-10 and 0-8 in the SEC in 2011 before Hugh Freeze led the Rebels to a bowl win in 2012.

There is plenty of buzz around the future of the UK football program, but I’m not sure how many people believe the Cats can play in a bowl game in Stoops’ very first season and I’m not sure why there is this sentiment that it will take 2-3 years to get to a bowl game. It’s true that it takes more time to build a BCS-caliber football program than it does to build a Final Four basketball team. One year and a handful of recruits is all it takes in basketball to become elite, but getting to six wins and making a bowl game in the first year can be done in college football. Simply a change of attitude can be enough in year one for major change and results on the win-loss column. Recruiting is what takes it to the next level, where Vanderbilt seems to be at and Ole Miss is getting there.

I hear a lot of UK fans say they expect improvement, but that we won’t necessarily see a major increase in wins in the first season, especially with UK’s grueling schedule. Recent history in the SEC, however, tells us otherwise. We’ve written a lot on this site about James Franklin and the wonders he has done in a short period of time at Vanderbilt, but Franklin is not alone. Hugh Freeze also guided Ole Miss to a bowl game in his first season on the job. Both of these programs were at no higher level than Kentucky at the time Franklin and Freeze took over. In fact, Vandy and Ole Miss were even in worse shape than the Kentucky program Mark Stoops is taking over. Both Vandy and Ole Miss lost to Kentucky the season before their current head coaches took over and they each did not win any more games than UK did last year. Also, when you factor in the injuries from 2012, the team Stoops is taking over (not even including the new recruits) is a much better one than what was on the field most of last season.

Here’s a look at the progression of Ole Miss and Vanderbilt since hiring Franklin and Freeze:

Ole Miss

On The Field Before Freeze: 2-10 and lost to Kentucky 30-13 (0-8 in SEC).

On The Field With Freeze: 7-6 and won BBVA Bowl with 38-17 win over Pittsburgh.

Recruiting With Freeze: Current class ranked No. 19 by ESPN, No. 11 by Rivals, No. 13 by Scout


On The Field Before Franklin: 1-11 and lost to Kentucky 38-20 (1-7 in SEC).

On The Field With Franklin (Year 1): 6-7 and lost in Liberty Bowl to Cincinnati, 31-24.

On The Field With Franklin (Year 2): 9-4 and defeated NC State, 38-24, in Music City Bowl.

Recruiting With Franklin: Current class ranked No. 20 by ESPN, No. 16 by Rivals, No. 18 by Scout.


So where could UK’s six wins come from next season you ask? Well, Ole Miss played in the SEC West last season AND had Texas on their schedule. Their fans had to be having the same doubts as you may be having now about next season, but Ole Miss got it done and I don’t see why Kentucky can’t do the same.

I see Western Kentucky, Miami (OH), Mississippi State, Alabama State, Missouri and Tennessee as six winnable games in 2013, and I’m not ruling out an upset of anyone else either. I mean, last year’s team did almost beat Georgia and South Carolina, so other wins are possible too.  If Kentucky happens to win five in Stoops’ first season, it would still be a three-game improvement and not a bad start by any means, but getting to a bowl in the first year is a reasonable expectation.

Article written by John Wilmhoff

Former beer vendor, college mascot and ESPN editor. This spring, you can also find me blogging about the Reds on Follow me on Twitter: @JohnWilmhoff

25 Comments for Kentucky’s Next Bowl Game: It Doesn’t Have To Take 2-3 Years

  1. Phat Ho
    9:51 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    With all the Juco guys plus returning talent, UK should be much improved over this past season.

  2. Take All Of Their Guns, Leave Them A Musket
    9:54 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    UK will beat down UofL THIS season. Just wait and see BBN.

  3. Catfaninhoosierland
    10:10 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    Apparently #1 can’t count since 3 sec teams were mentioned. Thanks negative nancy. Troll somewhere else.

  4. Jason
    10:15 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    I think “expectation” is too strong of a word. I certainly wouldn’t expect this team to go from 2-10 to 6-6 in one season. Expectations are your baseline of judgment, not the “if things break correctly” projection. My “expectations” for this team is 4 wins and no 40-0 blowouts, like the Vandy game.

    There’s certainly the possibility we’re talking about the ‘Cats in a bowl game like the BBVA game. But that’s too lofty of an expectation. And this is coming from a very, very optimistic fan.

  5. tyrus
    10:16 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    Let’s not go back to judging success by going to bowl games. It’s a proven not to develop long term success with UK. A goal of having a winning record against SEC teams is the ticket. Reach that goal and UK will always be going to all those meaningless bowl games.

  6. BBN4life
    10:22 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    7, I agree, but you have to start somewhere. We’ll take any bowl next season. Then I think we can improve like Vandy has. Their 9 wins this season is significant.

  7. come on
    10:24 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    “In fact, Vandy and Ole Miss were even in worse shape than the Kentucky program Mark Stoops is taking over.”

    This statement in regards to Ole Miss is woefully inaccurate and void of any research whatsoever. Had you done any leg work outside of your own blue shaded brain, you would see that Ole Miss had plenty of talent built up on that roster over the last four years. It boggles my mind how little awareness UK fans, and especially KSR writers, have about that status of quality players on UK’s roster compared to the other SEC teams. It is going to take 2-3 recruiting cycles at minimum to bring the talent quality where it needs to be.

    “I see Western Kentucky, Miami (OH), Mississippi State, Alabama State, Missouri and Tennessee as six winnable games in 2013.”

    This type of statement is the exact thing that got writers and in essence doomed the team and Joker last year. Why are they winnable? Roster turnover for those programs? Whether you realize it a large portion of BBN sets expectations based on the articles at this site. Its unfair and unreasonable to start pumping this stuff without further support.

  8. Jason
    10:31 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink


    All of those games are winnable games. Winnable, not “guaranteed wins”. WKU is still a mid-major. And they beat us based on Max Smith having his worst game, and a trick play. Tennessee just lost their QB, and two best offensive weapons, and has a new coach coming in. And their defense is terrible. And it’s at home. Alabama State is out of their league playing us. Miami (OH) was 4-8 and 3-5 in the MAC. Missouri had trouble pulling away from us, is at home, and they’re one of the 2-3 worst teams in the SEC (including us). Mississippi State is a fine team but they’re also no juggernaut, it wouldn’t shock anyone if we took them out (not including some of the very quality players they’re losing). You’ve also got a very emotional game at home against Louisville which is always winnable considering those rivalries CAN go any way and if they win their first two, I’d expect Commonwealth to be rocking that day.

    I don’t think we win all of those games. We’ll probably get 4. But, yes, all of those games that were listed are winnable, and I tend to throw Louisville in that “winnable” category based on it being a rivalry game, though you can chose to even throw that one out the window, too.

  9. John Wilmhoff
    10:56 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    No. 7, Ole Miss was as pathetic on the field in 2011 as Kentucky was in 2012. The recruiting classes were better, but it wasn’t playing out that way on the field. Given the unique circumstances of injuries ALL OVER the field for Kentucky, you can make the argument that Stoops is taking over a team that will look very different from last season, and in my opinion they look to be in a little bit better shape on paper than Ole Miss going into 2012, as long as UK’s key parts are healthy and Stoops finishes this class off strong.

  10. John Wilmhoff
    11:06 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    A lot of “if’s” for sure would have to go right, but I am just providing examples of how two similar struggling schools in the SEC have won quickly, and it can happen here too.

  11. Rockinron
    11:14 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    I’m jacked up about Stoops hire and the players he’s going after but our schedule next year is brutal. Thank God we added Alabama State for an easy W.

    11:38 pm January 20, 2013 Permalink

    #7-AMEN to u, brotha….Thank God there is at least one more sensible UK football fan out there….I thought I was the only one left.

  13. Are you high?
    12:33 am January 21, 2013 Permalink

    Uk lost to South Carolina 38-17. I like the optimism, but having a lead in the 1st half doesn’t mean we almost beat South Carolina. We didn’t even score in the 2nd half.

  14. SadCat
    1:03 am January 21, 2013 Permalink

    If Stoops is a genius, he will
    get us to 6-6…
    The SEC is the toughest
    football conference in human

  15. No offense John
    1:32 am January 21, 2013 Permalink

    “they look to be in a little bit better shape on paper than Ole Miss going into 2012”

    but there is just no way you can make this statement. Its not even 40% accurate. Again, I’m not trying to be a massive rear end but spend the next 6 months reviewing returning rosters, coaching staff schemes, performance of new coaches old teams discounting for talent discrepancies, the new signing classes, and sprint/summer football notes.

  16. John Wilmhoff
    2:58 am January 21, 2013 Permalink

    Just basing it a lot on returning talent that didn’t get to see much time in 2012, like Max Smith and Josh Clemmons (another topic for another day). If you can show me that Ole Miss had the same number of crazy injuries prior to Freeze taking over, I’ll tip my hat to you. I know these guys at UK didn’t have a lot of stars by their names, but we’ve seen them play enough at this level to know they are good (Smith and Clemmons especially). I’ve also never said that UK’s recruiting has been better than Ole Miss at any point. I’ve only said that the program overall has been in as good or better shape than the one that Freeze took over based on results on the field, such as when a bad UK team beat Ole Miss 30-13 in 2011. From a win-loss standpoint, Ole Miss and Kentucky were at least equal in recent history going into this past season. If you don’t like the Ole Miss comparison, than look at Vandy’s quick turnaround. It can be done. I’m not saying UK needs to make a bowl for the first season to be a success, but it is what they should aim for and it’s realistic.

  17. UKBlue1!
    7:11 am January 21, 2013 Permalink

    Miami (OH),Alabama St, Mizzu and UT I will ageee. WKU and St? We have lost to St 3 years in a row. We will play them in Starkville next season. WKU has one of the top 10 coaches in college football. We don’t know what to expect from his offense. I am sure he will run something to match his talent at WKU. We play Vandy, SC, GA all on the road. To win 6 games we will have to upset a Team like UL, UF or 2 of the road games. Alabama would have to sleep thru the game. I say with the mess Joker left Stoops will do well to go 4-8 or 5-7.

  18. One at a time
    10:08 am January 21, 2013 Permalink

    This type of analysis is irrelevant and counterproductive. A successful person or team approaches each task with focus and the intent to perform it to perfection, if possible. If UK develops this attitude with respect to each play (not each game), then the games will unfold in the best possible manner for UK. Whether that results in victory is impossible to predict and useless to expect. Every game on the schedule is “winnable” or not. I suspect that if UK is as focused and disciplined as I hope they will be (based on the new coaching staff, etc.), then they will be in the mix to win all the games on their schedule. If they actually manage to win 6 of those, I will be thrilled. My focus will be on how they play in the games, rather than the results–less turnovers, stupid penalties, more creative play calling on both sides of the ball, etc. In sum, I am thrilled that Joker Phillips is gone–he was worse than any of us ever imagined–and that Stoops has been hired–he looks to be the real deal. Go Cats!!!!

  19. Musehobo
    10:20 am January 21, 2013 Permalink

    UGGGHHHH. Your opinion frustrates me. You are setting the bar too high, and are catering to the people that already have this misled view. While it, of course, is possible that we make a bowl game next year, it is not at all likely.

    “I’m not sure why there is this sentiment that it will take 2-3 years to get to a bowl game”

    Because, most teams DON’T make a bowl game within 2-3 years of a coaching change when your team wins 2 games. In fact, MOST teams just keep losing. It takes a heckuva turn around to succeed that quickly, and your ideas come across more as expectations than possibilities. Very frustrating.

  20. rjr
    10:31 am January 21, 2013 Permalink

    “In fact, Vandy and Ole Miss were even in worse shape than the Kentucky program Mark Stoops is taking over”

    This is debatable- especially with regards to Vandy… I would have used smaller type for this point, not bold.

  21. maddogmitchell55
    12:25 pm January 21, 2013 Permalink

    A head coach can make all the difference in the world. Either he has it or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t then he can still be a decent coach. Those who do have it, though, can turn a program around very fast. See Bill Snyder at Kansas St. or even Bobby Petrino at Louisville and Arkansas. I know, Petrino off the field is questionable, but on the field there are zero doutbs. He turned Arkansas around very fast. This time next year we will know if Coach Stoops is great, decent or terrible. I hope he is great.

  22. bigblue007
    12:50 pm January 21, 2013 Permalink

    People want to say 2 wins, 2 wins, 2 wins…but completely forget that they won 5 just 2 years ago with a healthier roster. It’s not like these guys have won 2 or 3 games every year they’ve been here. I’ve appreciated the optimism most people have had for Stoops taking over, but sheesh, people saying that we can’t do what Vandy and Ole Miss did (win 6 games and go to the BBVA Bowl) are eternal pessimists. If the bar is set too high for that, than where do you set it?

  23. bigblue007
    12:59 pm January 21, 2013 Permalink

    Also, this wasn’t an opinion piece No. 19. All he did was present facts to show how two similar programs in the league went from 1 and 2 win seasons to bowls with new coaches. If you choose to believe that can’t happen here, that’s an opinion. Facts say it CAN happen, whether it will has yet to be seen.

  24. KadizKat
    2:17 pm January 21, 2013 Permalink

    For whatever it is worth, Chirs Carter pointed out how important is was for coaching to have grown up watching film. He was talking about the Harbaugh (sp?) brothers but I couldn’t help to be reminded of Coach Stoops talking about watching film in high school with his dad. Hope springs eternal!!

  25. Garmaster
    8:01 am January 22, 2013 Permalink

    9.Jason—Missouri had trouble pulling away from us? Then why did that game get called in the 3rd quarter?