This is the third of a multi-part series looking at the Kentucky football team's long-awaited rise from the cellar of the SEC to the middle of the pack, and the potential for turning last year's success into a tradition.
In Part I, we looked at the differences between the perception of the Wildcats prior to last year's 8-5 season compared to the final reality, and how that judgment has changed over the last 18 months or so. In Part II, we examined the SEC from the 50,000 foot view, and speculated a bit on how what Sport's Illustrated's Stewart Mandel called "the toughest conference in history" could impact the Gridiron Felines this year.
Today, we will take a look at the schedule, and try to get a feel for how it will impact the opportunities for the Wildcats to succeed. This part, like the others so far, will deal more with generalities than specifics. We will drill down to the detail later in this series.
The games highlighted in yellow above would seem to be "must wins" for Kentucky. Typically, schools schedule in two or three "easy" games, which the team is expected to win every year. This year is no different, and if anything, handling the "must wins" are a critical component to a follow-on bowl appearance.
Games highlighted in red above figure to be losses, either due to the strength of the opposition, or a combination of opponent strength and game location. Florida and LSU figure to be very strong this year, and are likely sure to beat UK even at home. Georgia is not as strong as either LSU or Florida, but they get us in Athens, which is a very tough place to win, so I figure it as a likely loss.
So a quick breakdown at this point looks like 3 sure wins and 3 sure losses. So the rest of the schedule is where our season will be made or broken, and those games are highlighted in blue. Now, a quick glance at the blue games reveals what looks like only one or two good chances at victory – October 27th against what is expected to be a fairly weak MSU team at commonwealth, and November 10th at traditional cellar-dweller Vanderbilt, although they, like Kentucky, are expected to be much better than normal this year. If we win both the Vanderbilt and MSU games, we are looking at 5 wins and 3 losses, best case.
On it's face, victories against Louisville, Tennessee, South Carolina or Arkansas seem unlikely. Louisville is a top 10 ranked opponent (but they do have a new coach, which makes an upset slightly more likely), and Tennessee has had our number since the Model T was-state-of-the art. We get Arkansas, a better program than us, in Fayetteville, and the Ol' Ball Coach and his Gamecocks in Columbia.
Obviously, none of these games represent easy victories, but if we are to return our program to some semblance of prominence, we must find a way to win at least two of these games. Nobody said success in the SEC was easy, and this year, it figures to be even tougher than usual.
The best candidates for upset appear to be Tennessee, who is still recovering from a disastrous season two years ago, and South Carolina, who we always seem to play tough and who is at least a notch below the SEC's traditional powers. But make no mistake, either one would be a tall order, and note that I am calling for not one big upset this year, but two.
For those of us who wring our hands at the mere mention of our SEC schedule this year, I simply say this – if we are ever to be the best, we must beat the best. I think beating the best is unlikely this year, so we will have to settle for the second or third best, which in the SEC still means a top 25 program.
Tough? Yes. Unlikely? Maybe. Impossible? No way. The song says "When you're going through Hell, keep on going ... You might get out before the Devil even knows you're there." The Football Wildcats will go through Hell this year. Here's to them getting out with the most impressive season in many years.