I know there is a bit of basketball news out there this morning, and we'll talk about that later. But right now, I am all about FOOTBALL, baby!
Every Kentucky fan knows the drill. "Kentucky is a basketball school and has a lousy football program", and most years (especially lately) that has been unfortunately accurate.
But after last year's surprising 8-5 bowl-winning season, the Gridiron 'Cats are earning recognition, if grudging and highly qualified, from sports commentators both mainstream and otherwise.
First, we have an article from a few days ago from the Elizabethtown News-Enterprise about Andre Woodson's sudden popularity with national sports magazines. Woodson is starting to become the trendy dark-horse pick for Heisman trophy contention, and I suppose traditional SEC powerhouses like Tennessee and Florida think that is something new. But it really wasn't all that long ago when we had another Heisman candidate in Tim Couch, so although this is a pleasant surprise, Kentucky has been there before fairly recently.
The more sober UT blogs are starting to notice Kentucky, certainly for the first time in several years:
Coming from Tennessee, that is tantamount to high praise. I don't need to remind you that we haven't defeated Tennessee since there was beer in the Beer Barrel trophy.
Another interesting bit of casual respect comes from VolNation, a big UT fan site, where UK wound up third among SEC teams in an on-line poll as most likely to upset UT this season. The SB Nation Tennessee site, Rocky Top Talk, has done this analysis of data provided at Athlon -- for their purposes, of course -- but it does indicate UK as firmly in the middle of the SEC pack this year, ahead of The Ol' Ball Coach's South Carolina team.
If it seems like I am scraping the bottom of the barrel (pun intended) for positives about the football team, it is only because last year's run of success was the first break in a seemingly unending streak of gridiron futility since Hal Mumme went back into his sarcophagus. Football success has become alien to many UK fans so used to victory on the hardwood. It is a very discordant thing to have one major sports team be so consistently excellent, and the other rarely rise to even a modicum of competence.
Spare me the "SEC is a tough place to play" argument -- so what? Tennessee plays in the SEC, and they do OK. So does Alabama, and Florida, and Auburn. We beat these teams (except Florida, lately, and Tennessee, who have been recently competitive) like petty thieves in basketball, yet we can't even defeat Tennessee in football but once in a generation? Hell, lightning strikes the same spot more often than that.
But I digress -- this post was meant to highlight the praise of Caesar, not to bury him under a diatribe of inadequacies past. Returning to form, we have the Nashville City Paper with this article debating who the SEC's best quarterback is. Opinions vary, of course, but a number of national publications think it is Woodson, and his recent appearance on Mel Kipper's radar as the 6th best player nationally tends to validate those opinions.
But UK football this year is more than Woodson. We have a stellar receiving corps lead by Keenan Burton, a more experienced defense under a new defensive coordinator, and a solid group of running backs lead by Raphael Little. The big concern for the 'Cats right now seems to be the O-line, which lost much experience last year, and the kicking game. If either the O-line or the kicking game significantly regress (and the O-line wasn't all that last year), it could negate our hoped-for defensive improvement.
But one thing is for sure -- the success the Wildcats had in 2006 has not gone totally unnoticed, except perhaps by the Louisville Cardinals, who are so flush with their recent gridiron ascendancy that they may well be ripe for the picking when we play them on September 15th in Commonwealth Stadium, in spite of this analysis by Dawg Sports.
Now, that would be a pigskin memory worth cherishing.