I am not usually a “what if” guy when it comes to sports. For every game that your team nearly won, there is another that they nearly lost. Selectively remembering the games where a ball bounced against you and forgetting the ones where it bounced for you is the normal process for most fans and I try to avoid it when possible. But today it was not possible. With South Carolina’s victory over Florida last night, the reality is that had Kentucky simply beaten the two SEC schools in Mississippi, we would be playing for a spot in the SEC title game in two weeks. Process that for just a second. A win in Oxford and Starkville, not exactly traditional mega-powers in the SEC, and we would have two weeks of hype for a potential trip to the Conference Championship game not only for the first time ever, but maybe for the only time ever. With Florida, Georgia and Tennessee down, the SEC East was ripe for the taking…and South Carolina did it, winning the league with 3 conference losses, something that rarely happens. We avoided Alabama and LSU on the schedule, took Auburn to the wire and needed only two lousy wins to go to Knoxville with the chance to not only break the streak but potentially pull off the impossible.
Now believe me, I know that had South Carolina had Marcus Lattimore, Kentucky could be without Bowl eligibility. I also know that in neither the Ole Miss or MSU games, did Kentucky show itself to be the team that deserved to win. I get all of that. But, how many times in our history will we be able to say that simply beating two perpetual doormats in the SEC could have put us in the Title game? Most years Kentucky loses close games against teams with much more talent…that you just have to accept as reality. But two games against Ole Miss and MSU? Those were not only winnable, UK probably has better talent (especially at the skill positions) than both schools…it was not only possible, it was totally doable..and we didnt.
I wont dwell on this reality forever…basketball is coming and if the football team beats Tennessee, we will have gotten rid of a demon that has haunted me longer than the players on the football team have even been alive. But we will look back on this as a rare chance that we let get away. Next year Florida will be better..Georgia and Tennessee have great young players that are going to develop very well…and Marcus Lattimore is just a Freshman. This was a golden opportunity…and we let it slip away. But hey, playing UCONN in the Birmingham Bowl can still be exciting…I hear Legion Field is nice this time of year.