One of the things I've asked myself recently is, "What would a successful football season, given the schedule and talent constraints, look like?" It's a question that undoubtedly has different answers for different people, and there really aren't any wrong answers. After the anguish of suffering through a 2-10 season last year with all it's attendant frustration and embarrassment, what would look like progress to you, Big Blue Nation?
For some, it would not so much matter about the record, but how the team looks. Does this look like a team that is improving, that has a chance to become competitive in the SEC? Or does it look like the same sort of undertalented, underachieving, injury-prone bunch we had to deal with last year? The eye test, for a lot of people, will be important.
For others, it's all about the record. If UK manages 3 or 4 wins this year, they'll chalk that up as progress from a first-year head coach and his young staff. If more than 4 wins emerge, I think most people would consider that a fairly substantial success.
Then there are those who would be very displeased if Kentucky didn't manage at least 4 wins, including a win in the SEC. How competitive can you possibly be if you go through an entire SEC season without beating a single conference team?
For me, I have a hybrid perspective. If Kentucky is very competitive in all it's games, I'd take a 3-10 season without much complaint. I set 3-10 as the minimum acceptable floor, because if Kentucky looses to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in Nashville, how competitive are they likely to be against highly ranked teams like Alabama, South Carolina, or even Louisville? Or for that matter, even middle-of-the-road teams like Mississippi St. and Vanderbilt? Not very, it seems to me.
Scores can sometimes be lopsided and the game still competitive. We have seen Kentucky play pretty well in games that they lost by 2 touchdowns or more, but that doesn't usually happen. Still, it's hard for me to feel badly about losing big to South Carolina or Georgia on the road — those are tough environments for anybody.
At home, though, I expect Kentucky to show some fight. Last year, the shutouts to Florida in the Swamp and to Vanderbilt in Commonwealth Stadium bookended the beginning and end of my consideration of Joker Phillips and his staff. The Florida loss had me questioning my prior judgment that Phillips would get one more year, and the Vanderbilt loss answered that question resoundingly. Kentucky cannot afford to look like that again, especially against teams like Vanderbilt.
I expect games like vs. Georgia last year to be the kind of losses we suffer this year, for the most part. That's the kind of losses competitive SEC teams suffer at home. I expect us to lose more than we win, but if they are competitive games where Kentucky is not completely drilled except by the very best teams, then I would say we are on the right path.
The Big Blue Nation, as a whole, gets the fact that Kentucky is not likely to be a bowl team this year, and in the worst-case scenario, could do no better than last year's record. But if we count every ranked team (in either poll) that UK faces as a loss, that still makes for seven teams that Kentucky ought to have a chance to beat. Of those seven, four of them are at home.
For my part, I'll be looking mostly at those seven games to determine how this team is doing. It's probably not rational to look at a blowout loss to Georgia in Athens as an indicator of how the "process" is working, although if the 'Cats are really doing well, they should keep the loss at two touchdowns or less. The same is true to some degree against Alabama at home — too much difference in talent, but UK should at least score and force them to punt a few times. Florida at Commonwealth shouldn't be a 38-0 shutout, I should think, if the Wildcats are really better this year. Even with all that said, there could be a lot of close games among the "winnable" ones where the Wildcats simply don't prevail.
So I guess the answer to what a successful season looks like to me is ... complicated. Results matter, and results are wins and losses, not "moral" victories. With that said, as Hoboat wrote back in June, moral victories may have to suffice, and depending on their quality, they certainly might indeed suffice.
So what does your successful season look like?
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