Big man Donte Rumph is just one of many Cats holding the keys to the Kentucky season.
From time to time I have the occasion to speak to the journalists who cover Kentucky Football and other sports. One major difference between them and me is that it isn't my job at A Sea of Blue to be objective. I root for Kentucky's team, fervently and sometimes to the point of fanaticism. I cried during football's Senior Day in 2009. It fascinates me that people cover a team as their job, and yet are not supposed to care what happens. When I ask about this I always get some variation of the same response; "I don't root for the team to win or lose, but admit that my job is a lot better when the team is winning. Players and coaches are easier to interview, fans are more interested in my work, there is more to talk about."
For the last few months, I've come to understand this very well. My primary job on this site is to talk about Kentucky Football. If you haven't noticed, I have not contributed here for a while. The main reason: its hard to find anything to say about the state and future of the program that is going to generate any interest.
Like a lot of people, I measure Kentucky's success on the gridiron by one main metric: can they get to a bowl game, and if so, can they be successful enough to climb the ladder and get to a good one? By that measure, the program has taken a huge step back in the last two years. In 2010, the Wildcats, despite a (relative) wealth of offensive talent, limped in at 6-6 and followed it up with a lifeless performance in the third rate BBVA Compass Bowl. (You can read about that experience here.)
Last year, of course, the Cats missed a bowl, a fact that made the season ending Tennessee win feel like making a 25 foot putt. . . .for double bogey. The decided lack of excitement about the 2012 season stems, in my estimation, from an assumption by most fans that a losing record is inevitable and a return to bowl game, any bowl game, is out of reach.
While I tend to agree, I think that UK could go bowling this year if a whole number of things fall into place. It will be like filling an inside straight. Make no mistake, this list isn't a smorgasbord. We cannot take some and leave some. What I say is this, for UK to go to a bowl, all or very nearly all of these things have to happen:
If. . .Maxwell Smith plays like a competent SEC starter. (Yes, I know, Patrick Towles could be a superstar and is in the mix, but a true freshman isn't taking THIS Kentucky team anywhere);
If. . .one of our young playmakers (DeMarco Robinson, Daryl Collins, Ashley Lowery) emerges as a reliable and occasionally gamebreaking punt returner;
If. . .UK's other receivers can master route running well enough to get consistently open;
If. . .Kentucky's starting linebackers play, collectively, at least 33 of 36 games;
If. . .Marcus Caffey steps on the field in the fall as an SEC ready corner;
If. . .the Cats can pull one major upset against an at least 7 point spread;
If. . .one team on the SEC schedule ends up having a very down year and is unexpectedly vulnerable;
If. . .the players gain some momentum the early year and start believing they can win; and
If. . .Joker Phillips truly retains his hold on this program. . . .
Kentucky will go to a bowl this year. If so, there will be a lot to talk about. If not, there will still be a lot to talk about, it just won't be very pleasant.