The University of Kentucky’s football season kicks off on Saturday, and there’s plenty of reasons for optimists to feel like the upcoming season will produce good moments. Let’s take a sip of some Big Blue Kool-Aid, shall we?
(Fancy yourself more of a worrywart? We’ve got a list for you, too.)
Winning 10 games in a single football season at the University of Kentucky should afford all parties involved something of a flier in the subsequent year. Only two other double-digit win seasons have ever occurred in UK’s history — Bear Bryant in 1950 coached the Cats to an 11-1 finish and a win in the Sugar Bowl, and in 1977 Fran Curci coached a 10-1 team. Bryant in 1951 led an 8-4 team while Curci’s next year was less-than-stellar at 4-6-1, and he’d go on to coach the program for three additional (losing) seasons after that. Stoops and his staff have demonstrated what can be done in Lexington, and while expecting another 10-win season would be obtuse (as it would have been last year, in all honesty), a winning season is more than doable and a 6-6 record should be the program’s floor. Last year’s effort is still fresh in fans’ minds, and as long as the Cats avoid a lopsided early-season loss, it should continue paying dividends into October.
Kentucky could go 0-12 this season (it won’t, I promise) and would still find itself amid college football conversations thanks to Kash Daniel’s outsized personality. The Paintsville native broke out as a junior last season and will look to make an even bigger name for himself this year as an undisputed leader of a defense trying to re-establish its identity following multiple key departures. If you’re a college football team that’s not going to be in the national-title conversation — and UK likely won’t be at any point this season — then it doesn’t hurt to have an ambassador from who’s one part Jon Snow, one part Stone Cold and all parts Big Blue.
No QB controversy
This time last year, Terry Wilson — the newest quarterback on campus — was named UK’s starter. By just about any measure it was a successful first season for the junior college transfer, and was certainly good enough to cement him as the Cats’ top option. Barring injury or an embarrassing run of defeats, it’s difficult to see Wilson getting poached from the position – which is only a bad thing for unruly fans who need something to bristle about. Wilson was one of the SEC’s most accurate passers in 2018 and is a dual-threat maestro, the kind that for so long terrorized Kentucky defenses. Intense scrutiny over UK’s areas of concern — the defensive secondary’s youth, its unproven crop of receivers after Lynn Bowden — has made it easy to lose sight of the fact that for the first time in a while, UK knows, without a doubt, who its quarterback will be.
The upside of having so many new starters at skill positions is it creates multiple chances for new guys to emerge as household names across the commonwealth. Could true freshman MJ Devonshire start in the secondary and go down as a UK great? How will AJ Rose bloom on the big stage now that he’s the No. 1 running back? Will whoever steps up as Lynn Bowden’s running mate electrify us as much as the junior from Youngstown, Ohio, has in just two years on campus? A pessimist looks at inexperience players and starts grinding their teeth; an optimist looks at all the new names and says, “OK, who’s here to stay?”
Yes, the Cats are young in some critical spots. And yes, there will be some growing pains that come with that youth. But, if enough young guys can establish themselves as playmakers and live up to their high school recruiting profiles, Kentucky’s chances of putting together another special season come 2020 would be much higher than they seem to be on paper heading into this fall. Wilson will be a senior and third-year starter on that team, an untested secondary will have been tested and every other position group will be returning some significant experience. If you want to call 2019 a gap year, 2020 could be when UK gets back on the honor roll.