Given the sound and fury around major college sports in the Twitter era, Mark Stoops has enjoyed an unusually long honeymoon for a coach with an 11-21 overall record.
Part of that, I think, is due to the Kentucky head football coach's last name. Some of it owes to a coaching pedigree that includes Florida State. Most of it is because of the perception that Stoops has been recruiting at a higher level than Kentucky has traditionally done.
However, seeing Stoops' team obliterated in the seventh and eighth games of the coach's third season by Mississippi State (42-16) and Tennessee (52-21) seems to have removed a lot of the benefit of the doubt that UK backers had been granting him.
"I know right where we are at," Stoops said Monday at his weekly news conference. "Not going to flinch one second."
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Yet as bad as Kentucky (4-4, 2-4 SEC) has looked the past two contests, the final four games — at Georgia, at Vanderbilt, Charlotte, Louisville — give the Wildcats a chance to create a positive narrative for their season.
From bad to good, let's examine how the Wildcats' 2015 season can still play out — and what each scenario would mean for Stoops.
Scenario 1: UK loses its last four games to finish 4-8.
Ramifications: All-out disaster.
It would mean that a year after starting 5-1 only to finish 5-7, Kentucky would start 4-1 only to finish 4-8.
It would mean Kentucky would lose to Charlotte, a third-year football program that has never before faced a Power Five conference foe.
As bad as that would be, it should not cost Stoops his job. Given that UK's previous coach, Joker Phillips, lasted only three seasons, you do not want to get into a cycle of constantly changing coaches.
If UK does finish 4-8, however, Stoops would enter 2016 on the hottest of hot seats.
Scenario 2: UK goes 1-3 to finish 5-7.
Ramifications: Not becoming bowl eligible in a season in which you had eight home games and started the year 4-1 would qualify as a substantial disappointment.
Entering 2016 off back-to-back 5-7 seasons means Stoops would face a must-win fourth season.
Scenario 3: UK goes 2-2 to finish 6-6.
Ramifications: A six-win season would represent incremental improvement from last season's 5-7 campaign. It would earn Kentucky the extra practice that comes from bowl eligibility and give Stoops and his recruiters something tangible to sell.
While it would be solid work by Stoops, what a six-win season in his third year would not mean is that the coach had done anything extraordinary by historical Kentucky football standards.
Every UK head coach since John Ray has produced at least one six-win season. Five of the seven coaches who immediately preceded Stoops had a six-win campaign (or better) before their third years.
Scenario 4: UK goes 3-1 to finish 7-5.
Ramifications: Would be huge. Kentucky has only won seven games in a regular season four times (2002, 2006, 2007 and 2009) this century. Seven wins punctuated by a victory over archrival Louisville in the regular-season finale would yield genuine momentum for Stoops and UK.
Scenario 5: UK finishes 4-0 for a record of 8-4.
Ramifications: Would be historic. Would give Kentucky its first eight-win regular season since 1984. Would give the Cats their first .500 SEC mark (4-4) since 2006. Would recast the past two weeks' dismal UK efforts as aberrations in an otherwise quality campaign.
Given how poorly Kentucky has played the past two games, is it feasible to even dream of a 4-0 finish?
Playing at Georgia (5-3, 2-3 SEC) seems the most unlikely win of the four. Yet Georgia is in disarray. Without star running back Nick Chubb — out for the season with a knee injury — the Bulldogs have not scored a touchdown in their last two games.
After starting former third-stringer Faton Bauta against Florida, Georgia has chaos at quarterback. The wolves are howling for Mark Richt's job.
Yet, under Stoops, UK has not even been competitive with UGa. The Cats lost to the Dawgs 59-17 in 2013 and 63-31 last year. Given that, it's hard to picture Kentucky going to Athens and winning Saturday.
The good news for UK and Mark Stoops is that how the coach's third season is ultimately judged will be determined by what happens in the Cats' next four games — not what happened in the previous two.