I know that basketball is back on every Wildcat's mind, but in case you missed it somehow, the Kentucky football team had a pretty big victory on Saturday on the Plains in Auburn, Alabama. That's right, Kentucky did travel down and defeat the Plainsmen on their own field, a feat Kentucky last accomplished in 1961, in Blanton Collier's last year. That has been a while, folks.
So what does this win mean? Well, first I'll tell you what it doesn't mean.
It doesn't mean that we can now demand respect in the SEC -- that's just silliness. Kentucky will get respect in the sense that teams know they cannot take the 'Cats for granted, but that's about it. It was a much bigger deal when we beat #1 LSU a couple of years back, so let's not get all big-headed and start smack-talking Alabama, Florida, Georgia et. al. It was a good win, but before Kentucky earns respect in this league, it will have to find a way to defeat teams like South Carolina, Georgia (in down years like this), and snap the ridiculous winning streaks by Florida and Tennessee. No SEC football team is going to respect a team with 20+ year losing streaks to anybody, m'kay?
It does not mean that we can take teams like Louisiana-Monroe for granted. When (if) we ever get to where we can, you now, actually win more games in the SEC than we lose, perhaps we could be forgiven for doing that. But not now. ULM is fully capable of defeating Kentucky if they don't come to play.
Beating Auburn does not mean that Kentucky has "arrived" anywhere. Auburn is a good team this year, but not a great team and certainly not "good" by Auburn's lofty standards. Yes, we went down and beat them in a year in which they are good, but not scary. They will be scary again, and Kentucky hasn't been scary in a long time. I'm just saying.
Beating Auburn does not mean we have solved our quarterback problem. While Morgan Newton did some good things and did not make many mistakes, there is a reason why Will Fidler got the second-half snaps. Randall Cobb in the Wildcat can be devastating, but until he actually completes a pass from that formation this year, opponents are quickly going to figure out how to defend him, especially teams with deeper defenses than Auburn has right now.
But with all this "reality check" stuff said, here is what the Auburn victory does mean.
It means that Kentucky finally played a fairly complete game, and did not beat themselves. That's a big deal. Kentucky has been really incredible at beating themselves over the years, and this win did not come by dint of a fortunate bounce or a bunch of turnovers. It was earned the way SEC teams earn victories -- in the trenches, by playing good football.
It means that our offensive line has now proven itself against the best defenses in the league, and when they wound up against the weaker defense of Auburn, our o-line dominated them utterly. That's the great, unacknowledged (well, not so much, maybe) secret of UK's success on the Plains -- the strength and experience of the offensive line.
It means that UK has proven three games in a row to have a stout defense. Yes, we can be scored on and we are not likely to ever shut out a first-tier SEC team, but Kentucky's defense is proving game after game to be a strong and resilient group able to prevent the big, quick scores that it allowed versus Florida.
It means that Kentucky is probably better, as a team, this year than last. I think the defense may have actually been a bit better last year, but the offense is substantially better this year than last, and is capable of scoring on any SEC defense multiple times.
It means that Kentucky did not lose their faith in either the system or each other after one embarrassing loss followed by two tough losses in a row. A three-game losing streak did not kill the hopes or faith of this team, nor the fans. That is important. I remember a time when the fans would have largely abandoned the football team after a three-game losing streak, but Kentucky fans have learned that even against superior teams that are likely to beat us, the 'Cats are capable of playing good football and even winning games.
Finally, it is the kind of victory in the kind of place that can influence recruiting in a positive way, particularly if UK finishes out the season strong, and manages three or even four wins in the SEC. It could be a very good thing for future versions of the Wildcats if that happens. I know it is a tough row to hoe, but a bowl game looks very doable for the fourth year in a row, and a better bowl game now looks to be within reach.
Make no mistake, any win against a quality opponent like Auburn is an important win for Kentucky. A couple more, and who knows where it will lead.