Every year, the collective fan base sets a pre-determined win total that must be reached for it to be deemed a “successful” season. The first year of the Stoops’ era, many just wanted to see improvement and a heightened reason for optimism in the future, winning roughly three or four games. In 2013-14, an electrifying recruiting class lifted expectations to six wins and a bowl game. Last season, a favorable schedule made hopes of seven or eight wins half-way reasonable. The Cats fell just short of expectations in all three seasons in terms of win totals, but they’ve built up a foundation unlike any era in UK history.
This year, where exactly is this roster’s floor and ceiling?
Let’s be honest, this year’s schedule isn’t doing the team any favors. Going on the road to the likes of Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisville is going to be unbelievably difficult, and home stands against Vandy, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi State aren’t going to be easy either.
That being said, Kentucky was two plays away from going 7-5 last season. The Wildcats lost some talented pieces, but most of the core group of guys are back this season, one year older with one more year of experience and maturity. This is statistically the most talented team in UK history, and with a widely respected coaching staff, they should be finally able to get the most out of their stacked roster.
The Cats have to get the job done against Southern Miss, New Mexico State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Austin Peay. Each of those games are at home, and talent wise, UK outlasts all of those opponents. They can’t blame inexcusable losses on youth and immaturity anymore, that ship has sailed. The bulk of talent now rests with the upperclassmen and redshirt sophomores. Guys like Drew Barker, Boom Williams, Dorian Baker, Chris Westry, and Denzil Ware have to carry some major weight and become the vocal leaders their teammates need them to be.
Aside from the five winnable home games, a win on the road against Missouri is necessary. UK defeated Mizzou at home in the most memorable game last season had to offer, and they have to find a way to continue that streak.
There are your six wins. That’s Stoops’ bowl bid key right there, signed sealed and delivered.
Beyond those six, the two home games against Mississippi State and Georgia are intriguing, and likely the most promising remaining wins on the schedule should UK lose to one of the teams they shouldn’t. UK has always had trouble with Mississippi State, but the media listed MSU just outside the top 40 nationally and last in the SEC West, where UK finished just outside the top 50. The talent gap is closing with the Bulldogs, and if there was ever a time to steal a win away from Dan Mullen, it’s this year.
Georgia on the other hand is loaded with question marks. Without a doubt, the Bulldogs have the more talented roster, but they’re also bringing in a brand new coaching staff, likely starting a freshman at quarterback, and have uncertainty on the defensive line. I wrote a piece several weeks ago about Georgia being my sleeper upset pick, and I stand by that gutsy decision. UK can usually snag a surprise victory every year, and something tells me this is the one.
The media predicts the Wildcats will finish fourth in the SEC East, and in order to make that happen, UK has to win all or most of the games they should, and one or two surprises along the way.
My minimum win total is six. It’s bowl or bust this season. Stoops has to get over the hump eventually, and the time is now if he wants to avoid a spot on the hot seat. Truthfully, I believe the Cats come out with seven wins, finishing 7-5 en route to Stoops’ first bowl game as head coach.
What’s considered a “successful” season this year? What’s your absolute minimum win total goal for the 2016 season?
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