For the past 2 years I have predicted what I thought who be the “make or break” game for Mark Stoops and UK. The game that would truly decide the fate of the season and the direction of the program. A little recap of those predictions:
2014: at Florida
-My reasoning then was Florida was a program in the decline and UK was, in theory, a program on the rise in year 2 of the Stoops regime. For the Cats to go to Gainesville and be competitive, something they hadn’t done in 500 years, would be an incredible turning point for the program. And even though they didn’t win, I think I was right. At the time of that loss, I think the fanbase had really bought in completely to what Mark Stoops was doing and the talent he was accumulating. Coming off a 2-10 season, to basically deserve to win a game at Florida really proved something about the program.
-I thought coming into the season the game against the Gators was again going to be a watershed moment for Mark Stoops. And that was without knowing the Cats would win at South Carolina before the Florida game. Once they did that, there was no doubt that if Mark Stoops was going to take this program to new heights that he had to beat an offensively challenged Florida team at home at night. I was at that game and it was definitely the best pre-game atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of. And then the Cats stunk. Where a loss was actually a positive in 2014 it was an extreme negative in 2015 and UK never really got it back on track.
Now, don’t worry, I am not picking Florida again this year. The defending SEC East champs could very well boat race in Gainesville this year. I don’t think the Cats have anything to prove in that game. I am setting the bar a little low because I think that’s where expectations are from the fanbase.
2016 HIGH NOON GAME: South Carolina
Here’s the thing, South Carolina is seriously rebuilding. Wanna know how I know? We’ve beaten them the last 2 years. But at the end of the day if UK ever wants to be a consistently good football program they need to beat South Carolina and Vanderbilt a lot. And UK never seems to get on any kind of winning streak against those 2 schools. I think if UK can handle the Gamecocks comfortably this year it could signal a nice shift in the power at the bottom of the conference. Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee will almost always be top dogs because of their resources. Missouri slipped in there a couple years but that was flukish. UK should fight for 4th in the SEC East every year and we should demand nothing less. And anything more we get is awesome. That is going to start by beating South Carolina in 2016 in an impressive fashion.
Now, all of this doesn’t matter if they blow the opening game against Southern Miss. But I am assuming they squeak that out. At Florida is very likely a loss and then a gimme against New Mexico State. Which brings us to South Carolina. UK is most likely 2-1 but 0-1 in the SEC. Lose to maybe the worst team in the league on your home field and the season is over. It just is. If you think the fans are unsure what to think of the program just wait and see how empty Commonwealth will be if we lose to South Carolina.
Mark Stoops has, unfortunately, not succeeded in the biggest moments. Or rather his players haven’t succeeded. This year he HAS to win all the games he should. In conference that starts with South Carolina. Win that one and let’s see what happens. Lose that one and see ya later UK Football.