Mark Story: Plenty of streaks left for UK football to tackle

AND THE REMAINING ONES ARE DOOZIES

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 11, 2012 

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips looked on during the Blue-White scrimmage on April 21.

MARK CORNELISON | STAFF Buy Photo

Whatever else one thinks of Joker Phillips' coaching tenure, the Kentucky football head man has been a streak slayer.

Before 2010, Kentucky Wildcats football teams were oh-for-all-eternity (0-17) against Steve Spurrier-led squads both at Florida and South Carolina.

Phillips' first shot against "Steve Superior" as UK head man in 2010 ended: Kentucky 31, South Carolina 28.

Last season, after 26-agonizing years of consecutive Kentucky football losses to Tennessee, Phillips unlocked the key to silencing Rocky Top — play a wide receiver at quarterback — and earned a sweet 10-7 victory.

It's fascinating that Phillips has not banked more goodwill with his fan base as a result of his streak busting.

Alas, given the post-Bear Bryant mediocrity (mostly) of Kentucky's football history, Phillips enters his third season as head coach with a target-rich environment of negative streaks still available to be snapped.

As you'll see, the ones left are doozies.

The streak: Kentucky has not beaten Florida in football since 1986.

The rundown: Of all the long, negative losing streaks that have plagued UK football in recent times, the now 25-game skid against Florida is the most understandable. With its fertile in-state recruiting base, Florida has a massive built-in advantage over Kentucky.

Still, UK has had its chances to bag the mighty Gators. In 1993, Kentucky intercepted seven UF passes — seven! — yet managed to lose on a last-gasp touchdown pass.

UK led Florida in the fourth quarter in both 2002 and '03 but couldn't close the deal. In 2007, a senior-laden Kentucky — coming off an upset of No. 1 LSU the week before — was unable to take down a youthful Florida led by then-sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow.

Since that 45-37 Cats near-miss, Florida has obliterated UK by a combined 200-36 in four games.

Odds of a Big Blue breakthrough in 2012: Slight. Kentucky hasn't won in Gainesville since 1979. Second-year Gators Coach Will Muschamp is already feeling some heat from a Gators fan base used to only the best. It would be an unbelievable coup for Phillips to end UK's last major "one-team losing streak" — but this is not the year.

The streak: Since the Southeastern Conference split into divisions in 1992, Kentucky has never beaten three East Division foes in the same season.

The rundown: In 20 years of division play, Kentucky has beaten as many as two East foes in the same season only six times.

Since 1992, UK has a winning record against one East team: It's 12-8 vs. Vanderbilt; 6-14 against South Carolina; 3-17 vs. Georgia; 1-19 against Tennessee; and 0-20 against Florida.

Odds of a Big Blue breakthrough in 2012: Slim. With Missouri joining the SEC East in 2012, UK will have six games within its division rather than five.

The good news is Kentucky is 2-0 all-time against Mizzou. The bad news is those games from the 1960s tell us zilch about the current programs.

Missouri seems confident of its chances against UK in 2012, having tabbed the Wildcats to be their initial SEC homecoming foe.

Long term, Kentucky should be more competitive with Missouri than it's been with Florida, Tennessee and Georgia, increasing UK's chances to finally have a three-win SEC East campaign (assuming the present SEC division format and scheduling philosophy hold).

The streak: Kentucky has not had a winning record in overall conference games since Fran Curci's team — while on NCAA probation — went 6-0 in 1977.

The rundown: To put that in perspective, Affirmed claimed horse racing's last Triple Crown (1978) more recently than Kentucky has had a winning SEC football record.

It gets worse.

Since the SEC began playing football as a league in 1933, there have been 79 total seasons (though Kentucky did not field a team during the World War II season of 1943). In that time, UK has had a winning conference record a whopping seven times — 1949 (4-1); 1950 (5-1); 1953 (4-1-1); 1954 (5-2); 1964 (4-2); 1976 (5-1); 1977 (6-0).

Conversely, Kentucky has failed to win a single SEC game in 13 different seasons.

Odds of a Big Blue breakthrough in 2012: All but nil, even though Kentucky does not have to play last season's BCS title game combatants Alabama and LSU from the West.

If Phillips shocks the world and snaps this streak in 2012, the talk should turn from his job security to where outside Commonwealth Stadium to place his statue.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstory.Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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