Mark Story

Why aren’t UK fans more excited about their 5-1 football team?

UK celebrates 40-34 win over Missouri

UK football team finishes the game at Kroger Field beating Missouri with a 40-34 score.
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UK football team finishes the game at Kroger Field beating Missouri with a 40-34 score.

In the moments after Kentucky staved off Missouri 40-34 Saturday night to run its record to 5-1, no one had to ask Wildcats running back star Benny Snell how he was feeling.

“Five and one!” Snell bellowed as he entered the UK postgame interview area.

His teammates were riding the wave.

“It’s incredible. Our locker room is just overjoyed,” Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson said.

Said UK wide receiver Garrett Johnson: “Five and one is lovely.”

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson talks about the 40-34 win over Missouri which improved UK to 5-1 on the season.

Yet if the Wildcats players are stoked by their start to the 2017 season, that’s not the feeling emanating from the Kentucky fan base. Many UK backers seem not to have bought in on the Cats in spite of the 5-1 start.

Given that this year is only the seventh time a University of Kentucky football team has begun a season 5-1 since the venue formerly known as Commonwealth Stadium opened in 1973, you might expect a little more electricity in the BBN.

So why isn’t there more excitement? Let’s explore some theories.

1.) The schedule. UK has already played “group of five” conference opponents Southern Mississippi (C-USA) and Eastern Michigan (MAC) plus Eastern Kentucky of the FCS.

After going 4-8 last year, SEC foe Missouri came to Lexington amidst a three-game losing skid in which it had been outscored 117-30.

The fans realize Kentucky began the year against the soft end of its schedule.

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Kentucky safety Mike Edwards, No. 7, celebrated with cornerback Chris Westry, No. 21, after a third-down stop against Florida. Michael Reaves

2.) Playing everybody close. UK beat Southern Miss by seven in a game that went to the final minute. Kentucky trailed EKU at halftime and entered the fourth quarter only up one before winning by 11. The Wildcats had to stop an Eastern Michigan pass on the final play of the game to win 24-20.

UK also had to stop Missouri (1-4, 0-3 SEC) on the last play to preserve a six-point victory.

Failing to blow out teams from perceived lower levels or teams seen as struggling (looking at you, Mizzou) sows doubt.

3.) Not beating Florida. Even back into the summer, people pointed to 2017 as the year when Kentucky was finally going to end its embarrassing three-decades losing streak to UF.

Instead, the Cats came from 27-14 ahead to lose 28-27, UK’s 31st straight loss to the Gators.

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Kentucky senior wide receiver Garrett Johnson, No. 9, leads the Wildcats with 27 catches and 333 receiving yards. Mark Mahan

Even by star-crossed Kentucky standards, this was an excruciating defeat. UK gave up not one but two touchdowns to uncovered Florida receivers. Many Cats fans thought Kentucky’s play calling got too conservative when UK had the lead.

Even with five victories, this one loss took a lot of steam out of Cats fans.

4.) It’s Hal Mumme’s fault. Since the pass-happy Mumme came to UK as head coach in 1997, Kentucky teams have tended to be evaluated through the prism of how explosive their offenses are.

Until winning the shoot-out with Missouri, the current Cats’ had not gone over 30 points in even one game.

5.) Not long ago, UK fans traveled this exact path to an unhappy ending. The last time the Cats started 5-1, in 2014, they went 0-6 the rest of the way.

So Kentucky backers have very recently seen their team make waves early against a favorable schedule only to see the Wildcats fade once the competition toughened.

This year, there’s no question that the final six games on the Kentucky schedule look tougher, on paper, than the first six.

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The Kentucky Wildcats are 5-1 in a football season for only the seventh time since 1973 but the Big Blue Nation does not yet seem to have fully bought in. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

However — with the exception of Georgia (6-0, 3-0 SEC) — the final six games on the UK slate for 2017 do not look as tough now as they did when the season started.

Other than the visit to Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs, UK’s final four SEC games — at Mississippi State (1-2), Tennessee (0-2), Mississippi (0-2) and at Vanderbilt (0-3) — are against teams that are presently a combined 1-9 vs. conference foes.

Even with Lamar Jackson plotting revenge for last season’s UK upset, Kentucky’s season-ending rivalry showdown against Louisville (4-2, 1-2 ACC) does not seem as daunting at the moment as it looked in the summer, either.

UK football team finishes the game at Kroger Field beating Missouri with a 40-34 score.

It is often joked that the unofficial slogan of UK football is “We never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

That’s about to be tested again. Mark Stoops and the 2017 Cats are sitting on a big chance to make some happy history in these final six games.

It’s OK, UK fans, to let yourself get at least a little excited over that.

Next game

Kentucky at Mississippi State

4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21 (SEC)

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