Improvement is rarely linear, and this is especially true when judging the performances of 18 to 23 year-olds. Their performances will vary game-to-game, but anecdotal evidence is still anecdotal. Always remember with college athletes that randomness is a feature and not a bug.
One would expect to see swaths of BBN upset with last night's performance, and that id is never better represented than on the various message board posts. Those emotional reactions are always there after a loss, if you hate yourself enough to read them, but what particularly galls is the propagation of a false narrative by The Name Brands.
Just catching up on UK-MSU. Looks like the Cats have regressed and there is yet another too-long list of "Can you explain that?" decisions.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) October 25, 2015
A fan can certainly have reasons to be hopeful but in my mind tonight's arguably Stoops' lowest point. Shouldn't happen Year Three.— Justin Rowland (@RowlandRIVALS) October 25, 2015
Getting blown out this bad in year three isn't a good look for Stoops. Is MSU really that much better than UK?— Derek Terry (@DTerryRivals) October 25, 2015
This is preposterous enough that I'll charitably chalk them up to a combination of group-think and emotion. It's the pervasive impatience with winning and losing. It neglects that turning around moribund programs follows this well-worn path: first, you lose; later, you win ugly; and finally, you win.
As I've pointed out in my multi-year project, UK football is improving. The blow-out losses have steadily dropped, as has the average margin of losses in 2015 compared to 2014. So far this season, UK's average margin of loss is 11 points, which is eight points lower than last season, and equivalent to Vanderbilt in James Franklin's third season in Nashville. Finally, lest we forget, a program that didn't have a single playmaker in 2013 now has somewhere between 3-7 depending on the night.
The teams between the 2011-2014 seasons weren't going to beat what will be a five-win South Carolina team in Columbia this season, and they probably wouldn't have done enough to beat Missouri either. That doesn't even mention scoring 14 unanswered points in the last eight minutes of a game to rally and beat Eastern Kentucky. Those previous teams probably wouldn't have won one of those games, and yet the 2015 team won all three.
Regression? The progression was in the first seven weeks of the season. To see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant struggle.
In his third season at Vanderbilt, Franklin's team lost 24-56 on the road at Texas A&M. In his third season at West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen went 4-8 after going 17-9 in his first two campaigns. That's a regression followed up by bowl seasons ever since.
The best example may be Clemson, a program that has played down to unranked competition so much that "Clemsoning" became a thing. That program is now healthier than ever despite those anecdotal embarrassments. These programs started at different levels than UK, but they further illustrate the wider point that improvement can not be measured accurately on a game-by-game basis.
I share last night's frustration. The team looked unprepared defensively, balls were dropped, and three seasons in both sides of the line are still generally terrible on standard downs. At the same time, there's a bounty of evidence that this program is improving, even if the first half of the schedule was kind.
I think it'd be wise if we all reserve judgment until December, especially with the stronger competition looming on the horizon. Better yet, come around to my line of thinking that this team has the quality and experience of a 6 win team, and gains beyond are playing with house money.
If you were thinking this team would win eight games, then you were setting yourself up for failure not only for the season, but in the butt-kicking this team would have gotten from an eight or nine-win opponent in the Belk Bowl.