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Three Games to Define A Career... and Erase 'Toxicity'

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The reason behind the negativity, and how Mark Stoops will morph into a facsimile of Joker Phillips or Rich Brooks after Mississippi State, Georgia, and Missouri.

Stoops walks off after the Vandy win
Stoops walks off after the Vandy win
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The entire contingent of Big Blue Nation goes into this weekend's bye week with varying degrees of emotion regarding their beloved football team.

The Wildcats are sitting at .500 after going 3-1 in their last four games.  On paper, that is a great turnaround and the 'Cats are rolling, but there is a lot more to the situation than meets the non-BBN eye.

The 3-1 record in the last four games includes two wins over the consensus two worst teams in the SEC and the 2-3 New Mexico State Aggies; who dropped 42 points on Kentucky.

Having said that, they are WINS... and they are wins that had to happen to keep any chance of a bowl game alive.

'TOXICITY'

There is also the frustration from the fan base suffering from a 6-week hangover from the Southern Miss debacle.  When you add Mark Stoops' toxic comments, you have a recipe for a powder keg ready to blow.

There are a few schools of thought on Stoops' comments after the Vandy game (and somewhat doubling down on them during his weekly show this week) about fans helping create a 'toxic environment' after the Southern Miss game.

One school of thought is that Stoops is just defending his players and taking the spotlight off him.  There is the other school of thought that he used a win to try to justify attacking the fan base for the frustration that has been directly aimed at him since the Southern Miss game.

I am not here to debate the merit of which is the correct side to be on, that is a fool's errand and truthfully, pointless.  I do think the timing of the stance is definitely a mistake on Coach Stoops' part.

First of all, the stance he took was after a win, and while not an impressive one, it was a must-win for UK to even think about a bowl game.  I know he was asked a question broadly related to the situation, but he chose the tone, words, and manner on his own.

Secondly, it now justifies any player or player's parents to take the same angle.  I am not saying Coach Stoop's assessment is wrong, he is correct.  The Southern Miss debacle took the frustration meter from about a 3 to a 10 real quick.

I am also ABSOLUTELY not saying it is ok for any adult to message a player with criticism.  People who feel the need to tweet at, or Instagram message, or post on a player's Facebook wall criticism or negativity are genuinely miserable people that need to reassess their life options and get off of all social media.

Having said that, morons exist in every single fan base in America, and I can guarantee you that Ohio State fans, Alabama fans, Tennessee fans, and Michigan fans are as mean, if not exponentially more brutal to their players on social media.

I repeat and EMPHASIZE... it is despicable and unacceptable, but do not kid yourself, it happens.

I can promise you that Meyer, Saban, Jones, and Harbaugh are not telling the media it is creating a toxic environment.  They are coaching their guys on how to ignore it as a vocal but very small portion of the fanbase, or to avoid it altogether.

Creating an 'us against the world' mentality is actually a great strategy and could jump-start a team to a nice run.  However, it should be done internally, or at the very least not by the head coach coming out after a win and poking a starving bear with a salmon in his pocket.

'INCREASED YEAR OVER YEAR FRUSTRATION'

There is a significant amount of open discussion wondering why fans are so frustrated even though UK has went 3-1 in its last 4 games.  Most fans also would have looked at the schedule this summer and thought 3-3 at this point would be unfortunate, but acceptable (Southern Miss, Vandy, NMSU).

This is a valid point, but history makes it a moot point.

One of the popular arguments is people asking when is the last time Kentucky had a 4-game stretch... actually, three years in a row now.

Two years ago UK started 5-1 and was a missed call at Florida from being 6-0, we all know what happened next.  Last season the 'Cats were 4-2 and should have been 5-2 after a failed game winning drive vs. Auburn; we all know what happened next.

So now, here is Kentucky sitting at 3-3 through six games with a bad, bad loss to open the season.  If history repeats itself, we all know what is going to happen next.  Not to mention this is the worst start to a season since Stoops year one.

As per the law of being a Kentucky Football fan, we are all terrified, half expecting IT (meltdown and regression down the stretch) is going to happen, and we will end up 4-8 or an ugly 5-7.

Add to the situation that the last three wins have all been done before (we have beaten Vandy, we have beaten South Carolina, and we have beat a mediocre team we SHOULD have blown out in EKU last year).  When you come to that realization, the fans are not seeing anything new to get excited about or consider progress.

The truth of the situation is that the moment we blew that 25-point lead at home to open the season, every member of BBN was already thinking the worst.

I think Coach Stoops has clearly felt that dread and pressure from that day forward, and he is paying much more attention to 'the noise' than he should.

'CHANGING THE CONVERSATION'

SDFG

There is a significant possible silver lining in the overcast of gloom, Mark Stoops can change the trajectory of his career and erase the toxicity over the span of just three games.

There are six total games remaining this season, and three of them are pretty much going to go a certain way.  Win number four vs. Austin Peay and likely two convincing losses to Louisville and Tennessee.

UK goes to Knoxville this year and everything UT does well; we do not.  Everything we do well; UT does significantly better.

Then, of course there is going to Louisville to face a coach who would love to beat us by 100 and a Heisman candidate at a position and skill set that we can never seem to even slow down, much less stop.

This leaves Mississippi State in Lexington, Georgia in Lexington, and a trip to Missouri.  In his career, Mark Stoops is 0-fer against those three scenarios.  He has not beaten Mississippi State or Georgia, and only beaten Missouri one time in Lexington.

If Stoops and Company can go 2-1 in those three winnable games; it means we are going bowling (assuming Austin Peay of course). If Stoops can recover from the Southern Miss mess and go 6-6, he will have earned as much time as he needs at UK.

I have not hidden my criticism of Stoops this season, for three years I really thought this was going to be the season he put it all together.

At this point, I am very cynical of that and I do fall on the side of thinking it is time for a change for next season.  Having said that, I would absolutely love Mark Stoops to turn into a younger version 2.0 of Rich Brooks instead of Joker Phillips.  I would LOVE to eat crow and would dance a jig if he can get us to a bowl game.

But I will not apologize for taking a 'wait and see' approach this season.

Kentucky football has a very dubious record of missed opportunities... recent and historical.  Coach Stoops has a week off to prepare for a 3-game stretch that is as big of an opportunity he has ever had here.  Win 2 out of 3 and he changes the conversation from how much the buyout is to how much for bowl plans.