It’s been roughly 48 hours since Kentucky’s devastating loss to the Florida Gators, and I have to admit, I’m still hurting. It was supposed to be our day, our year, to end the streak.
And just like that, after so much built up excitement and optimism, it wasn’t.
The game was absolutely brutal, but let’s re-evaluate this team and the season outlook as a whole.
Going into the year, fans and local media hoped to be going into the Eastern Michigan game at 3-1 and the bye week at 5-1. South Carolina was getting unbelievable preseason hype, and Florida scared people from the logo on their helmets alone.
Splitting those games was the ultimate goal for many fans. And they did just that.
Kentucky has a tendency to play down to lower-tier teams, so looking over EMU would be idiotic. Missouri has played horrible football this season, but no wins in the SEC are guaranteed.
That being said, if the Cats come in and take care of business the next two weeks, they will almost certainly meet preseason expectations, heading into the bye week at 5-1 with legitimate momentum heading into the latter half of the year.
As gut-wrenching as it was, the Florida loss does not define a season with high expectations.
Historically speaking, impressive teams across the nation throw clunkers every year, but still manage to finish strong. This season, we’re looking at the start of that in our own conference alone.
Mississippi State looked like world beaters last week against LSU, and then got embarrassed against Georgia. Vanderbilt started putting up “WE WANT ALABAMA” signs after starting the year 3-0, got them, and immediately regretted it. Ole Miss put up 92 points in their first two games, and then lost by double-digits to California on the road.
Kentucky’s situation is no different. In fact, the Wildcats are in a pretty impressive spot going forward.
The coaching staff had a rough game, including the two scoring plays with receivers left wide open. But simple coaching mistakes are a whole lot easier to fix than working with players without talent. UK has more than enough of that to go around, with arguably the most talent on this team since the 2007 season.
Mark Stoops is not a bad coach. He has an excellent cast of coaching talent around him, as well. But he had a bad coaching day with several crucial decisions (or lack thereof) that cost the team the game, and criticism was absolutely deserving.
Today, he acknowledged he made mistakes, took responsibility for each of them, and said he was going to get it fixed. And I believe him.
We saw the Wildcats outplay the Gators on offense, defense, and special teams. Benny Snell said it best following the game.
“We were the better team, and there’s not a question.” And he’s right.
This is a damn good Kentucky football team. They know that, the coaches know that, and the fans know that.
Georgia looks very tough, Mississippi State will be a handful on the road, and Louisville will be looking for revenge.
That being said, Kentucky will likely be favored against Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee. Getting the job done in those five games gives us eight wins, the most regular-season victories for the Cats since 1984. Win any of the three tougher games, we’re talking about the greatest football season since Fran Curci’s 1977 team.
The Florida loss will not vanish from the hearts of Kentucky fans for a while, but finishing the year strong would certainly stitch up some of those wounds.
Don’t jump off the Kentucky football hype train just yet. This can still be a special season.