Let's run a sports version of a blind taste test:
Team X is in the Southeastern Conference. It has won a combined eight SEC games over the past two seasons. It has played in back-to-back bowls.
From last year's 7-6 squad, Team X returns a robust 16 starters.
Defensively, Team X — even after a recent, unanticipated player defection — has nine starters back.
That includes a possible first-round NFL Draft pick as an edge rusher, the SEC's third-leading tackler from 2016 at weakside linebacker and a safety who might be the best at that position in school history.
Wouldn't you guess Team X is set up for a pretty good year?
UK obviously enters 2018 with some questions. It has no quarterback in its program who has ever thrown a pass in an FBS game. Kentucky must replace the best place-kicker in school history plus its starting punter. All those defensive starters are back from a unit that was horrid in the final three games of 2017.
Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine that any other SEC team — except for Vanderbilt — could have so many returning starters back from a winning team and yet be so scorned by a preseason prognosticator.
Such is the life of Kentucky football, where decades of past mediocrity shape external perceptions of the Cats.
Mark Stoops deserves credit for lifting the UK program from the depths of two straight seasons of 2-10, 0-8 SEC in 2012 (under Joker Phillips) and 2013 (Stoops) to back-to-back 7-6, 4-4 SEC campaigns these past two years.
Yet it is also true that Kentucky in the Stoops era has so far failed to do four things that would help change long-lasting, negative views of Wildcats football.
1. Beat Florida. UK will never earn any kind of SEC street cred until it snaps what is now a 31-game losing skid to its East Division rival.
Last season, when Kentucky saw a 27-14 fourth-quarter lead over Florida morph into a 28-27 loss in a game in which the Gators scored two touchdowns on passes to receivers that UK left uncovered at the line of scrimmage, was a gargantuan whiff.
2. Win bowl games. Those who claim bowl games don't really matter are wrong. To change views of Kentucky, it is important to end seasons by leaving a positive impression.
Stoops is 0-2 at Kentucky in the postseason.
The bizarre ejection of Kentucky star running back Benny Snell in last season's Music City Bowl after the All-America candidate refused an official's offer of help up off the ground ginned up national interest in that game. So UK's failure on a two-point conversion try with 37 seconds left in what became a 24-23 loss to Northwestern was a missed chance to create a positive story in front of a lot of eyeballs.
3. Break the seven-win ceiling. Kentucky has not bested seven wins in a regular season since 1984. For Stoops to show that UK football is changing in a fundamental way, that's a paradigm that will have to be altered.
4. Fix the defense. Other than a few exceptions, Kentucky has not fielded a consistently good defense since Jerry Claiborne retired as Cats head coach in 1989.
Part of the optimism when Stoops was hired was based on the belief that, given his success as Florida State's defensive coordinator and his family pedigree of coaching "D," he could finally build a stout Kentucky defense.
Instead, every one of UK's defenses under Stoops have been statistically worse than the three Joker Phillips-era defenses that preceded them.
If Stoops and Co. do not put a substantially improved defense on the field in 2018, when will it happen?
Even with outside linebacker Denzil Ware's surprise announcement last week that he was graduate transferring, UK has nine starters back on defense. That includes standouts in edge rusher Josh Allen, weakside linebacker Jordan Jones (assuming he returns from a shoulder injury) and safety Mike Edwards.
Alas, USA Today even ranks UK out-of-conference foe Middle Tennessee State (No. 64) nine spots ahead of the Cats.
If the national newspaper's ratings are right, Kentucky would go 3-9 in 2018.
Has an SEC team coming off back-to-back winning seasons and with 16 starters returning ever been subject to such "no respect" treatment?
Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory