Big Blue Nation's beloved gridiron ‘Cats have lost two games in a row in embarrassing fashion. People are jumping off the bandwagon left and right and especially looked forward to last night's basketball exhibition for two reasons:
1) it's the beginning of basketball season and we have a championship contender, but also, 2) if you have ever vomited, do you recall that feeling in your mouth afterwards? Yeah, that is how being a UK football fan feels right now and basketball will serve as a big bottle of mouthwash.
Before I get into the crux of what my article is about, I want to take a minute to address the last two weeks. If you were upset at the program and coaches, good. You should be. If you think it is unacceptable to get embarrassed by middling SEC teams, good. You should feel that way. Are you wondering what our offensive game plan/identity actually is? Yeah, me too.
Here is more reason for frustration: in the last two years, we have played 19 games. In NINE of those games we have given up 35 points or more. That means every other game we are giving up a minimum of five scores. In our SEC games the last two years, we have given up 35 points in EIGHT of the 14 games. Six of those 14 games saw 40+ given up and in three of those games an amazing half-a-hundred.
HONEYMOON = OVER
The honeymoon is over for Mark Stoops, but it does not mean he should be on the hot seat by any means. There is a HUGE difference between the two. Now, I say that with this qualifier -- if we lose out (sans Charlotte) and get embarrassed by Georgia and Louisville, then it will be a very uncomfortable offseason and Stoops will be on the hot seat in year 4. However, I do not think there is any way (barring catastrophic injuries) that that happens.
I do think DJ Eliot's honeymoon has been over for a while now and that he should be squarely on the hot seat. In fact, if the aforementioned scenario plays out, I would expect Eliot to be fired the day after the season ends.
Kentucky has to turn the season around or it is in danger of losing recruits and essentially having the season be a wash in terms of program progression. I have zero problem saying the entire staff is deserving of harsh criticism for the last two weeks, and even the EKU game. However, harsh criticism is where it stops with me. You should not be "done with football" or "pondering the difference between these days and the Joker days."
When we get embarrassed on the scoreboard and the commentators are using phrases like "playing against air" and "that is just embarrassing," then the COACH criticism is justified and expected. But beyond that, it is simply another step in a LONG process.
Personally, I am supremely confident that we will win 2 of these last 4 games, if not 3 of them, and go to a bowl. That would certainly fit the bill of turning the season around and ending it on a positive note while solidifying the future recruiting classes.
I have been as guilty as anyone in getting a bit overzealous with my expectations of the program. In year one I thought we would win 5 games, year two I thought 7 games, and this year, while I predicted 7, I really wanted to predict 8. What I have learned though, is we are still in the early stages of this turnaround.
COMPARING TO GAIN PERSPECTIVE
I discussed Mississippi State as a UK program comparison, and noted that it took 5+ years to get them over their hump and into contention, not to mention that Dan Mullen was not handed a flaming bag of poop for a program like Stoops was.
For further comparison, I think we need not look any further than a few hours down 75 south for perspective, at the team that has thoroughly decimated us two years in a row now -- Tennessee.
Butch Jones and Mark Stoops were hired at the same time; both coaches supplanted coaches that essentially sabotaged the respective programs in Derek Dooley and Joker Phillips. Remember, Dooley is the coach that allowed us to beat UT WITH A WIDE RECEIVER AT QB.
The difference is that Tennessee is a top-10 NCAAF program. We are barely a top-10 SEC program. Derek Dooley's final two recruiting classes at UT came in at #13 and #17. Joker Phillips' final two recruiting classes came in at #62 and #63.
Butch Jones' first three classes came in at #21, #5, and #5. Coach Stoops' first three classes came in at #29, #17, and #35. Some quick math says UT has a five-year average of 12th best in America and UK's five-year average is 41st.
Knowing this, I am actually very happy with where we are. UT is a team that has won 5 games, 6 games, and will likely win 8 games this regular season. Compare this to 2 wins, 5 wins, and either 6 or 7 this year for UK and not only are we nearly on schedule with a top-10 program that is rebuilding, we may actually be ahead of schedule. Also, consider the Dooley Days at UT were exponentially better (talent-wise) than the Joker days at UK.
I pose this question to you: imagine Joker brought in the #13 and #17 class his final two years, and then Stoops brought in back-to-back top 5 classes; do you think we would be a little better than 4-4 this season? That is a rhetorical question, by the way.
Kentucky fans have very real and valid reasons for their frustrations and our coaches deserve the criticism they are getting. I absolutely hate playing the "what if" game. Everyone loves to play the "we could be 6-0, but we could be 0-6" angle, but it is lazy. Every team in America can play that game and justify being undefeated and in the playoff.
However, I can say with confidence that our coaching has led to one or two of our losses. That is on the staff and their growing pains. The team will be even more talented in the future, and our coaches will improve (or told to kick rocks) and this program will get to be a contender in the next few years.
Until then we are going to be dealt some gut punches and some embarrassments. The key is to get butt hurt in the moment, but get over it, adjust and realize the big picture is so much better than the rear view mirror.