I can imagine I am not too far off in saying that 99.9% of Kentucky Football fans woke up yesterday with a football hangover. You know what I am talking about, when you wake up and for those first few moments you do not remember the gut punch... then it all comes washing back over you and you realize we completely crapped the bed Saturday night.
All of us Football fans have done it multiple times and until we have a coach who wins every single game he coaches and executes 100% perfectly in said games; we will continue to have the hangovers. Full disclosure, I was highly frustrated Saturday night and borderline embarrassed, I even tweeted back to square one.
This is a highly disturbing, deflating, back to square one performance— Keith Garrett (@_KeithGarrett) October 25, 2015
Well, after calming down I can realize it is not even close to back to square one.
Fellow Editor/Writer for A Sea of Blue, Will Marshall, penned this very good article yesterday regarding having a sanity check, and he is spot on. While he covered this topic yesterday I felt it deserved further discussion. I have mentioned multiple times that having arguably the top program in the entire game of college basketball and the speed at which Coach Cal got us there has spoiled us as fans. Saturday night was another prime example of that.
We did get our butts handed to us Saturday night, Dak Prescott would not have put up better stats if he would have been facing a stiff breeze instead of an actual defense. Coach Stoops and staff made some head-scratching decisions, and our guys made some even worse decisions on the field. To quote the fan favorite Rich Brooks, it was a "total systems failure."
This was not "Old" Kentucky on display though, we played a program that won 10 games last year and spent a month as the #1 team in America, and to be honest, they are likely the best team on our schedule. We did not matchup well with them (Dak vs. our D, their D-Line vs. our O-line, or their big, talented, and veteran WRs against our rookies) and they just kicked our butt. It really is that simple, folks. This was a damn good team that put us in our place.
One of the aspects of Will's article that holds the most truth is that improvement is rarely linear. Nothing could be truer when you are dealing with a football program. There is no doubt that we would all love for the improvement from Day 1 to look like this:
The much more realistic version of program progression is one that involves mini-peaks and valleys with an aggregate improvement over time. Much like in the business world, you hope to invest in a good mutual fund that has ups and downs but constantly increases over time. The problem with college football today is that everyone wants Apple stock after year one or two of an IPO.
The improvement for a college football team is one that looks more like the below graph:
Lots and lots of ups, downs, and flat spots, but over time, a constant growth. This is exactly where we are as a program, we are in a place of frustration while growing... they do not call it growing pains for nothing.
Before the season started, I predicted a 7-5 season (winning the final three to get there) and a lot of feedback was people liked my optimism. As the season grew closer. the predictions shifted from 5-6 wins to 6-7 wins. Then the season started and our instant gratification button got pushed and we were thinking 8 wins. Maybe even a chance at the East Crown... myself included.
The key to not losing your mind with the shifting hope is to be able to adjust to reality. Week-by-week we get a peek into what kind of team we really are. At this point, I would say we are a 7-5 team at best, which would be a big step forward. Even if we finish 6-6, and go to a bowl, it is a step forward. If we only beat Charlotte from here on out, I will be the first and one of the loudest to criticize.
However, even if that were to happen, it might not be the right move. You need not look too far to see what I mean. For instance, let us look at the team that just embarrassed us, the team comprised of 21 juniors and senior starters.
Mullen took over a program in better shape than what Stoops took over at UK and promptly won 5 games. The next year he blew the nation away and won 9 games (4-4 SEC), State fans had to think they were now a fixture in the top 15, and would be competing for SEC Championships and National titles soon.
The next season Mullen only won 7 games (2-6 SEC), then 8 games, then 7 games again. He got them over the proverbial hump last year winning 10 games, and looks to be well on his way to 9+ wins again this year... in years 6 and 7 of his tenure.
Look at our neighbors to the south in Tennessee and Butch Jones. The Vols are in the same division as us and we are both coming off coaches who sabotaged the program for multiple years. Butch Jones walked in and recruited top 10 classes from jump. The Vols have much more talent than UK and play a similar schedule as UK. They have went 5-7, 7-6, and are starting at 7-5 before a bowl game this season.
The point in all this: those Kentucky fans who are "done" with the program and those "fans" that have even uttered the words "Joker days" in the same sentence as their frustration need to do one of two things. A) Take a big step back and realize we are where we should be, or B) load up on Louisville gear and start throwing L's and defending hookers in the dorm.
The administration has put more money into the program than in the HISTORY of the program; meanwhile, Coach Stoops is recruiting at a level not seen in the HISTORY of the program. The program deserves a discerning fan base that sees the forest beyond the trees.
This does not mean that Coach Stoops is beyond reproach. Stoops made some decisions last night that led directly to the game getting out of hand. That is fair game. What is not fair game is being short-sighted to try and compare this regime to the prior ones.
If you are one of those that think history is repeating itself, and Stoops is no different from his predecessors, please do us all a favor and be miserable in silent. Feel free to avoid the program until it is to the level of today's Mississippi State program, and come back when the weather is better.