After a narrow escape against EKU in overtime, it's safe to say the Kentucky Wildcats have has had its strangest start in recent memory.
On the one hand, the team owns two SEC victories with three of its remaining five league games against teams with zero collective wins in the conference. Mark Stoops's bunch has been clutch and resilient, and the defense has been top notch for all but a pair of second-half lapses.
The team has only one loss, by five points, to the #8 team in the country.
Most importantly, Kentucky owns two non-Vanderbilt SEC wins for the first time since Matt Roark led the Cats to a 10-7 win over Tennessee to close the 2011 season.
Of course, it isn't inaccurate to say Kentucky has looked god awful offensively for all but 5 of the last 14 quarters. The offensive line sandwiched an excellent performance against Missouri with two completely inept outings against the Florida Gators (somewhat understandable) and EKU (inexplicable).
Patrick Towles has been inconsistent, looking like an All-SEC caliber player one half and lacking in baseline competence the next. The Cats' best offensive weapon has been increasingly quiet each game, culminating with a suspension (or whatever you want to call it) against EKU.
Kentucky needed a near-last minute touchdown and defensive stop to beat a Sun Belt team and a miracle comeback to defeat an OVC team in overtime. It won those games by a combined 14 points.
All of which is to say, I've never been simultaneously this optimistic for and baffled by a team I root for. In season, I spend as many as 18 and never less than 10 hours a week watching college football. I consider myself a connoisseur. Yet I couldn't tell you with any conviction whether I think the Cats will finish 9-3 or 5-7.
This I do believe: Both are still in play.
This uncertainty mirrors what is going on in college football this year. Gone for the moment are the days of teams that seem to bring it every single week. The days of old-school Alabama, Florida State and Oklahoma dominating their respective conferences are gone. Two weeks ago Ole Miss and UCLA were favorites for the Playoff and the Crimson Tide were left for dead. Not true today.
The nation's #1 team, Ohio State, has looked pretty pedestrian for most of the year and while I could find a number of reasons not to rank them first, it is harder to come up with reasons why another team should be (though Utah would be #1 on my ballot if I had a vote).
As if what is happening between the lines isn't strange enough, the last few days have seen everything go completely bat-poop crazy off the field. Most importantly from the Cats perspective, this is a great year to be decent in the SEC East. Every division team other than Kentucky and Florida has two SEC losses, and the Gators are going to have a tough time hanging on without Will Grier in the next two weeks (at LSU and neutral site game with Georgia).
If the Cats can get past Auburn on Thursday, things get really interesting really fast. A loss isn't necessarily a season breaker. At the beginning of the year most assumed the Cats would have no chance in this game and many still picked Kentucky to go bowling. And, as we've seen, Kentucky could play poorly in this game and still end up with another solid performance no one expected down the road.
Assuming you're past thinking about bowl eligibility and hunting for a shot at the SEC East title, though, this is one UK has to have. While beating Georgia in Athens or to a lesser extent Mississippi State in Starkville are still pretty tall orders, the other four remaining games are all winnable on paper.
Which is not to say that each won't be lost. Big difference. We'll just have to see. Try to enjoy it.
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