When you are a fan of a football program like Kentucky, you hear the phrase “turning the corner” all too often. Every time a new coach comes in, he is looking to turn the corner into a consistently successful program. This has been a consistent theme over the last 25 years for Cats fans. And frankly, I don’t blame anybody for losing patience with that kind of rhetoric. Because Kentucky has had plenty of opportunities over that last 25 years to officially turn the corner and stay there. For instance:
-Cats win their first bowl game since 1984 the year before
-UK beats #9 Louisville and #1 LSU on it’s way to 5-1 start
-Win over LSU vaults UK into BCS Bowl contention
-Cats finish season 1-4, including close losses to Florida and Tennessee
-UK hasn’t won 8 games since
-Cats coming off New Year’s Day Bowl
-UK beats Louisville by 34 and LSU on the road in ’98
-Tim Couch gives UK national publicity
-Cats are trounced AT HOME by Louisville in opener by 28
-Cats have medicore 6-6 season, losing bowl game to Syracuse
-Cats go 2-9 in 2000 and program is back in the dumps
-Cats go to first bowl game in 10 years in 1993
-Cats open ’94 season beating UL in renewal of rivalry
-UK loses final 10 games of season
-Lost to Florida by 66, Indiana by 30, Miss State by 40, and Tennessee by 52
-UK also loses to NE Louisiana at the end of season
-Cats go 4-7 in ’95 and ’96, Bill Curry fired
There are 3 times in my lifetime that Kentucky was on the verge of becoming a consistently good program and we were told that UK had “turned the corner”. And each time, UK under-performed when they needed to the most and the program slid back into medicority.
Which brings us to this week. UK did some good things last season, beating South Carolina and nearly beating Louisville and Florida. Finishing 5-7 was considered by most to be a step up. They UK starts off this year 2-0, including a highly entertaining upset of South Carolina on the road. UK gets the worst Florida team in 20 years on it’s home field and what happens? A poor performance and a disappointing loss. Now they get a ranked team, again at home, and are favored by the odds-makers. It is a game that historically UK has lost.
I understand that beating Missouri will not set the world on fire on a national scale. But for the importance of this program I think it is a HUGE game. The most important of Mark Stoops tenure. And yes, more important than last week’s game. Because if they lose that game, they then hit the real difficult part of the schedule (Auburn, at Miss State, at Georgia, Tennessee). If you go into that slate 2-2, then all of the sudden another 6-6 or 5-7 season is very much a possibility. And once again a chance to “turn the corner” as a program has gone by the wayside.
But, if you beat a ranked Missouri squad, the 2-time winner’s of your division, suddenly you sit at 2-1 in the conference. You suddenly have shown the ability to shake off a tough loss and get a tough win right after. Something UK teams of the past have been totally incapable of doing. This game will be the ultimate test of if this program under Mark Stoops is genuinely a different kind of program with different kinds of players or will it be just more of the same. I think UK fans have been more than patient enough with this program, under many different head coaches, and the teasing we’ve had to endure knowing that our team is often better than is shown on the field.
Has this team and program truly “turned a corner”? Saturday will let us know.