Make no mistake, this is definitely David vs. Goliath in the SEC sense of the metaphor.
To put it rather bluntly and colloquially, Kentucky has sucked against Alabama in football. Kentucky is 2-33-1 in 36 tries against Alabama since 1917 when we first played the Tide for a record of .069. Our record against the Elephants is the worst Kentucky has against any SEC team, and that includes teams like Florida and Tennessee, who currently have 21 and 23 game winning streaks respectively against the 'Cats. UK has beaten Alabama since we beat Tennessee and Florida, though, back in 1997 during the first year of Hal Mumme and his Air Raid variation of the Spread Option offense.
2-33-1. Let that roll around in your mind like the bloated, malignant worm of a statistic it is. No FBS team in America, perhaps, has such a dominant record over another during such a long period of years, a stretch that extends virtually into antiquity, to the very roots of college football in America. It is a staggering, gobsmacking statistic of domination that simply beggars belief.
It is against this historic backdrop that Kentucky begins its preparation to do battle with the Crimson Tide, the crown jewel of SEC football, at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday where 92,138 fans gathered last year to watch the spring Alabama practice game. One wonders if Kentucky could pack that many into an arena to watch Big Blue Madness in basketball, if there were one of that size around, but I digress. It truly is a shame that the Wildcats have virtually no history of success against this most storied SEC football program. In a way, it is the obverse of the series between the two teams in basketball, except that Kentucky in no way holds such a gaudy record in terms of wins and losses, but a more gaudy one in terms of national success.
There are many ties between Alabama and Kentucky, not the least of which is sharing two football coaches in Bear Bryant and Bill Curry, one highly successful at both schools, and one not. But in terms of football players, Kentucky has only two currently on the team from Alabama -- Tony Dixon from Parish and Jake Lanefski from Mobile. Alabama only has one Kentuckian on the current roster, starting defensive end Brandon Deaderick from Elizabethtown. Interestingly, the two coaches have no connection to each other or to the other school that I can discern.
Tradition wise, as I have said, there is no contest here. Alabama's tradition is arguably the richest in all of SEC in football, and Kentucky's is inarguably one of the thinnest. But times have changed, and the 'Cats are standing on the brink of becoming something very unusual in the modern SEC -- a team that goes from historic futility to a genuine threat to win against anyone. This is not to suggest that Kentucky is suddenly Alabama's equal in football -- they aren't even in the conversation, especially historically. But at this particular moment in time, Kentucky is good enough to defeat Alabama on a given day, and there have been few moments in the annals of the two schools where that could be said.
Part of me regrets that we did not have a shot at the Tide last year when their team was much weaker and Kentucky was relatively stronger. But you can't pick your years in the 12-team SEC format, so we'll just have to settle for the memory of knocking off #1 LSU in Commonwealth Stadium last year. This year, UK's opportunity to shock the nation in football is a much taller task, as winning in Bryant-Denny Stadium in the SEC against a top 5 ranked Alabama team is an order of magnitude harder than defeating the same caliber team in Commonwealth.
This week, there will be many, many posts on this match up here at A Sea of Blue, at Roll Bama Roll, and elsewhere in the blogosphere. Despite the gulf in perception between Alabama and Kentucky on the gridiron, the reality is that both Alabama and Kentucky know what this game could mean. A win by Kentucky, unlikely as it may seem to some, could vault them into an unimagined level of national prominence in college football and change the fortunes of the team for years to come. Alabama has far less to gain and far more to lose, as is always the case when you are ranked in the top two in the nation.
Nick Saban understands what it means to get to the top, as he did at LSU, and knows that you must hold serve against opponents like Kentucky to stay there. Alabama is within shouting distance of a BCS championship appearance at the moment, and a defeat by Kentucky at home would dash those hopes asunder, probably (but by no means certainly) until next year. Losing to Florida or LSU at home is one thing, but to Kentucky ...
This game is huge. It is pregnant with opportunity for Kentucky, and BCS championship implications for Alabama. Therefore, we at A Sea of Blue will be giving it the respect and coverage it deserves. Basketball is coming, but a historic opportunity is here in football, and we should grab this elephant by the tail and hold on for all it's worth.