Every year, it seems, Kentucky fans come into the season with the optimism that the Wildcats will finally manage a breakthrough, and every year, Kentucky falls somewhat short. The consistency of this shortfall is maddening, and has plagued Kentucky for the last five seasons. Every year since 2006, UK has been bowl eligible, but every single one of those years, the Wildcats have fallen short of the eight regular-season wins that marks a kind of inexact dividing line between the top half of the conference and the bottom.
You'd think that by sheer luck, Kentucky could manage to stumble into eight wins at least once in the last five years, but you'd be wrong. We've had our chances, to be sure:
- 2006 versus South Carolina, Kentucky lost 17-24 -- a third quarter interception of André Woodson cost Kentucky a chance at victory.
- 2006 at Tennessee, Kentucky lost 12-17 -- A delay of game penalty with the Wildcats at second and goal to go with 8:30 left in the game cost the Wildcats a streak-ender
- 2007 vs. Tennessee, Kentucky lost 40-42 (4OT) -- Lones Seiber's 35-yard field goal to win the game in the second overtime was blocked by Tennessee. Eventually, Kentucky would go on to miss a 2-point conversion they needed to continue to another overtime.
- 2008 vs. South Carolina, Kentucky lost 17-24, and vs.Georgia, 38-42. Both those games were winnable.
- 2009 at South Carolina, Kentucky lost 26-28, and versus Tennessee, 24-30.
- 2010 at Ole Miss, 35-42, vs. Auburn 34-37, at Mississippi State, 17-24.
All these games, all these opportunities fell by the wayside. Kentucky has consistently failed during this comparatively golden era of Kentucky football to win the types of games it takes to be .500 or better in the SEC, which is what it would take to get to eight wins. 2+2=4 even in Kentucky, but UK always seems to wind up with one of the 2's missing in their equation.
Will this be the year UK breaks through? It doesn't look that way on paper, primarily because all the offensive production left last year for the NFL or whatever else lies before them. What UK is left with is some young talent, and in the SEC, one thing that you can usually count on is that young talent is not enough to get you in the upper half of the league. That's the conventional wisdom, anyway.
What Kentucky does have going for it is an experienced offensive line, an improved defensive front and an experienced secondary and linebacking corps. Morgan Newton is a talent at quarterback, and in his third year with the 'Cats, should be expected to produce something -- keep in mid it was in his junior year that André Woodson exploded onto the scene. and if Newton can make an impact in the same general vicinity as Woodson did, you never know what is possible.
What will it take to get to eight wins this year in the regular season? Five things:
- Consistency. Kentucky has got to lose the mercurial streak it has possessed seemingly every year and deliver consistent performances on both sides of the football;
- Guts. Some of the play calling over the last several years at crunch time has lacked boldness. Our coaches need to understand that taking the next step means risking the comfortable 6-6 seasons;
- Execution. How many times have the Wildcats lost games due to late-game penalties or a failure to execute the simple play, block on special teams, or get the man on the ground? Too many;
- Intensity. Kentucky has occasionally matched the intensity of the best SEC teams (LSU 2007, Alabama 2008, South Carolina 2010) but seems to consistently have letdowns against lesser foes;
- Luck. Kentucky is notoriously a hard-luck team, and there is no reason that should continue indefinitely. This is the only reminder you should need of that:
So as we march inexorably toward the season kickoff with Western Kentucky next Thursday in Nashville, Wildcat fans will be wondering what they will see. The first game never promises to deliver the season's best football, but it should be possible to get some idea of what lies before the Wildcats further down the schedule.