When the clock struck 00:00 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on November 29, 2014, Mark Stoops and his staff had to accept reality, Kentucky was not going to a bowl game in 2014. The goal had vanished and the staff had to reprocess their upcoming winter and spring. The effects of the loss to Louisville were dramatic. There were defections in the impending recruiting class and there was wavering support from a small part of the fan base as it turned its attention to the basketball season.
It has been well documented that Kentucky began the season 5-1, yet finished 0-6. It has also been well documented that Kentucky was a delay of game and a dropped interception from participating in a bowl game. The outcome of the 2014 season has been on repeat like an old, broken record.
Kentucky football fans understand the history and dynamics of their program that continuously falls on its own sword. Whether it be a stop on third-and-long, or knocking down a long pass (see LSU 2002) there has been a history of repeated, avoidable failures that have doomed the success of the program. The losses to Florida and Louisville in 2014 are no different. Most Kentucky football fans take on the "what can go wrong will" mentality, and rightfully so.
Of course in recent memory, there have been successes that have showed glimpses of hope to a fan base that continually experiences heartbreak. Whether it be defeating eventual BCS National Champion LSU in 2007 or coming from 17 points behind to defeat a top-10 ranked South Carolina in 2010, the program has seen its fair share of hope.
As we move forward to the 2015 season the theme seems to be "Bowl or Bust". Listening to pundits and "experts", this season appears to be it is "now or never" to be successful. There is certainly reason to empathize with that sentiment. On one hand, the staff has recruited very well and now has their players in place instead of Joker's. The team is also manned by a fourth-year junior quarterback in Patrick Towles that has shown flashes of greatness. And after all, it is Mark Stoops' third year in Lexington. By now the program should be in a position to win games and compete in the postseason.
Despite all of those factors, there is reason to be skeptical of "Bowl or Bust". The fan that is expecting 8 wins is no more delusional than the fan anticipating 3 wins. Is it reasonable to expect this Kentucky team to win seven or eight games this season? After all, this program has not won a game away from Commonwealth Stadium since September of 2010 (Louisville). That is a staggering statistic when you consider that no current Wildcat, coach or player, has experienced a road victory.
There is also a small piece of history going against this collection of Wildcats. It has not been since 1986 that Kentucky defeated the Florida Gators. Perhaps the 28-game winning streak ends in 2015, but it's not a shoe-in given the history behind the winning streak. However, if there were ever a year to end the streak it would be this season.
Let's surmise that Kentucky does not make a bowl game in 2015. Then what? Do fans give up hope on Mark Stoops? Does recruiting plummet to lows experienced under Joker Phillips? Those are two valid questions. This is not to diminish any hope or positive feelings that fans towards 2015, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic.
IF Kentucky does not make a bowl game Kentucky fans should not give up on Mark Stoops. There would be no reason to. It was not too long ago that Kentucky was experiencing consecutive 2 win seasons with its lowest talent level in over a decade. Mark Stoops has brought this program a long way. He has unquestionably produced the school's best recruiting run in its history. He has generated more energy and enthusiasm that had not been previously experienced by any previous head coach in his first two seasons.
Fans should begin the 2015 season with an open mind. Less than six wins is not a failure. The schedule, as usual, is difficult. Building a successful college football program takes a lot of time and a lot of energy. When the clock strikes 00:00 at Commonwealth Stadium on November 28, 2015 the season will not be a bust, there is a bowl in the future.