Between the 2 win football season, a disappointing NIT bid basketball season and a baseball season that went downhill way too fast… a few of Kentucky’s athletic teams will be looking to start a new and improved chapter in 2013-2014. Other teams such as the women’s basketball team, women’s soccer team and women’s volleyball team, experienced success but are now looking ahead to jumping the hurdle and reaching the next level of success.
Looking ahead to the 2013-2014 sports season for the University of Kentucky, how would you prioritize the following list?
–> Winning football games (anywhere from 4-6 wins)
Why it’s a priority: As much momentum as Mark Stoops and his staff have gained since his arrival in Lexington, the changes and buzz have yet to transpire on the football field. The ONLY thing Stoops hasn’t done yet is win a football game. Success on the field is the ultimate way to prove that times have truly changed.
Why it’s not a priority: Kentucky’s schedule is brutal next season. Stoops is working with a roster that is not filled with his recruits and the level of talent he is looking to bring in over the next few years. Stoops almost gets a buffer year based on the schedule and the roster before people will probably put too much stock in the actual number of wins on the field.
–> Completing a perfect 40-0 basketball season
Why it’s a priority: Teams with a legitimate shot to make a run at going 40-0 only come around maybe once in a decade. To run the table requires a mixture of exceptional talent, a season without major injuries, a bit of luck and a team finding the right chemistry. Kentucky has the kind of roster that has a chance. Who knows when the next shot will come for Kentucky, or any team?
Why it’s not a priority: While 40-0 is a fun goal to reach for and daydream about, if Kentucky has a great season, especially if they win a national championship– no one will really lose any sleep over whether or not the team went 40-0. It’s a fun side story. Nothing more.
–> Women’s basketball getting past the Elite 8 threshold
Why it’s a priority: Matthew Mitchell has taken his team to the brink of a Final 4 on 3 different occasions in the last 4 years. Kentucky has clearly moved into the top 10 on a consistent basis in women’s basketball. However excellent that accomplishment is, Kentucky has fallen hard to the elite of the elite just short of the Final 4. I know Matthew Mitchell wants to take the next step. The roster is stacked, though they will sorely miss All-American A’dia Mathies.
Why it’s not a priority: Matthew Mitchell is as beloved of a coach that the University of Kentucky has had in any sport in recent memory. Everyone loves him. He loves Kentucky. His wife loves Kentucky. He has made women’s basketball popular in the bluegrass. Mitchell’s teams have a unique brand of basketball that people love to watch. Whether or not Mitchell takes his team to the Final 4 next year, or any year for that matter…I can’t see anyone turning on him anytime soon. Or ever.
–> Keeping the “buzz” alive with the football program
Why it’s a priority: The wins might not come right away, and I actually think the majority of the fan base is realistic about that heading into next season. The key will be keeping the momentum and buzz going throughout the season, regardless of the results. Fans packing the stadium, the atmosphere at games, the positivity surrounding Stoops… it’s important that these things don’t take a hit even through a brutal SEC schedule. Recruiting could hinge a lot on this factor…
Why it’s not a priority: The future looks bright for Kentucky with the staff’s recruiting ability. Perhaps if the buzz is lost in any way, it can be quickly regained when the influx of talent arrives over the next few years.
–> Winning a national champion in men’s basketball
Why it’s a priority: Kentucky enters the season as the favorite to take home the title. Kentucky’s roster has the most talent, and a mixture of veteran players and stud freshmen. The pieces are all in place for a special season. Winning 2 national championships in 3 years would solidify Kentucky as the current king of the college basketball world. Also, it would soften the blow of a Louisville national championship last year. Let’s be honest.
Why it’s not a priority: When is it not a priority to win a national championship at Kentucky?
–> Beating Louisville in football
Why it’s a priority: We could very well be the only team standing in the way of Louisville going undefeated and potentially playing for a national championship. Winning that game would also be a huge boost to the beginning of the Stoops era.
Why it’s not a priority: On paper, we should not win that football game. Louisville has everything to lose in this situation. If we lose this game, no one will be terribly shocked.
–> Beating Louisville in basketball
Why it’s a priority: Beating Louisville at home is always important. Fresh off of a national championship, beating Louisville would feel great for the fan base. Louisville will likely come in as a top 5 team. Kentucky will likely be a top 5 team at that point as well. The match-up and the anticipation for that game will be huge. Calipari has 1 national title at Kentucky. Pitino has 1 national title at Louisville. This feels like a rubber match.
Why it’s not a priority: Kentucky is young. Louisville is returning a lot of experience from a national championship. The game takes place early in the season. The world would certainly not end, and Kentucky would be fine if they happened to drop that game early in the season.
–> Beating Western Kentucky in football
Why it’s a priority: Potential wins are hard to come by with Kentucky’s schedule this season. Not only is this the Stoops era opener, but WKU is coming off an upset win over Kentucky last season AND Bobby Petrino is the coach. Considering the faction of the fan base that supported the Petrino hire, beating WKU would likely end that debate. Kentucky really needs to win this game.
Why it’s not a priority: The first game in a new system for a team is sure to have some bumps. At the same time, WKU is facing the same issue. At the end of the day, a ton of stock likely won’t be placed in many of the results from this season.
–> Kentucky baseball bouncing back
Why it’s a priority: This baseball season left a bad taste in the team’s mouth and the mouth of the fan base. Kentucky baseball picked up so much momentum and attention after the 2012 season. The team started that season on an undefeated streak and won over the hearts of plenty of Kentucky fans looking for a team to root for in the off season. The baseball team really needed to build on that momentum and have another good season to keep the attention of the casual fan. This past season did not help that one bit. The magic of 2012 will be all but forgotten if the baseball team can’t put together a strong showing this upcoming season.
Why it’s not a priority: To be completely honest… it’s not football and it’s not basketball. The casual Kentucky fan cares the most about those 2 sports and likely won’t have their day ruined based on the results of the baseball team.
All things considered, here is my list in order based on what’s most important heading into the 2013-2014 year. Feel free to disagree and discuss…
1-a) Keeping the buzz alive for the football program
1-b) Winning a national championship in men’s basketball
* I think the men’s basketball program is in a much more comfortable place. That’s why the football buzz gets the slight, slight edge.
2) Beating Louisville in men’s basketball
3) Beating WKU in football
4) Beating Louisville in football
5) Winning football games (4-6)
6) Kentucky baseball bouncing back
7) Women’s basketball getting past the Elite 8
8) Completing a perfect 40-0 season