Almost every year, seasons can be made or broken on just a few games, and this year is no different for Kentucky. Kentucky has found a formula for football success that draws derision from some, praise from others, and indifference from most -- not indifference about the outcome, but indifference about the competition.
Let's be honest -- UK's out of conference schedule has been the butt of jokes in the SEC over the last few years But this year, unlike most when some SEC schools felt that it was okay to thumb their nose at UK because Kentucky always schedules a game with an FCS team, every single SEC team has an FCS team on its schedule. But the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and Central Michigan Chippewas are not as tough as, for example, Utah State Aggies and on the road against Clemson, like Auburn, or at Penn St. like the Alabama Crimson Tide.
But be that as it may, Kentucky generally has three unquestionably winnable (some might call them "sure things") on the schedule. The fourth is a major rival, the Louisville Cardinals, and although they have been down for a few years, Charlie strong is gradually turning that ship around. As of this year, they can no longer be counted on as a likely win.
So where does that leave us? Follow me past the jump.
Critical Games For 2011
For my money, there are four pivotal games for Kentucky coming into this year. This, of course, assumes that Kentucky defeats the three teams they are supposed to beat, the "bought wins," if you will.
Vs. the Louisville Cardinals, 9/17/2011 -- The game is in Commonwealth, so the Wildcats have an edge there, but this is a big-time rivalry and taking anything for granted in this game can be the highway to Hell.
- Win this game, and the Wildcats head into SEC play 3-0 at home against the Florida Gators.
- Lose this game, and that win has to be replaced by an SEC victory. That should tell you all you need to know about the mountain a loss to Louisville lays at the paws of the Wildcats.
Vs. the Florida Gators, 9/24/2011 -- Will Muschamp is the newly-minted head coach of the Gators. They have a very young, if very talented squad, and at this point in the season they will still be learning the schemes of the new coaching staff. This is as vulnerable as the Gators are ever likely to be.
- Win this game, and Kentucky not only breaks a 24-game losing streak but picks up their fourth win depending on the outcome of the Louisville game. With FCS squad Jacksonville State still on the menu, Kentucky can almost count this as their fifth win, needing only one more for bowl eligibility. Win this game, and it's not hard to start dreaming about an eight or even nine win season.
- Lose to the Gators, and UK will likely be either 3-1, or 2-2. 3-1 is no big deal (except for that darned streak), but 2-2 puts them behind the eight ball big time.
At the Vanderbilt Commodores 11/12/011 -- As usual, Kentucky's post season hopes will likely live or die with this game.
- If UK can manage at least 2 wins between Louisville, Florida, LSU, South Carolina, Mississippi St. and Ole Miss, this game puts UK into the bowl eligible group.
- If UK comes into Nashville with 3 wins, this game means almost nothing. If they come in with 4, it is an absolute must-win, because Tennessee is weak enough for UK to beat in Lexington.
Vs. the Tennessee Volunteers, 11/26/2011 -- The way I see it, this is the biggest game of the season. It is important no matter what Kentucky's record is.
- If UK has less than 5 wins at this point, the game is important only for ending the 26-game losing streak, but that is very important indeed. The same is true if UK has 6 or more wins coming in.
- Tennessee is still in a bit of a rebuilding program, but because UK gets them this late in the year, they will either be very tough, or banged up -- you just never know. With 5 wins, this game takes on double importance and becomes the nexus upon which much glory or disappointment rests -- the 25-game streak, and the post-season streak all on the line.
If UK were to win all four of these pivotal games, it would truly be special. Not only would the 'Cats extend their winning streak over the hated Cardinals to five games, but it would end the embarrassing losing streaks against Florida and Tennessee as well as launch Kentucky into what would likely be a very decent bowl, definitely not a pizza bowl or a Tennessee bowl, but one well south of the Mason Dixon, maybe in Florida or some other warm-weather state.
Pick up a win or two against one or both of the Mississippis, and this could truly become a season to remember.