There is are a number of topics to digest in regards to Kentucky athletics, so let's get right to it.
The UCLA Loss isn't that big of a deal
I know it didn't feel that way in the immediate aftermath, at least it didn't for me, but after a little over an hour of hosting my radio show listening to callers, John Calipari's postgame remarks, and postgame remarks from the players, I wasn't that bothered by it.
First off, UCLA is a really good basketball team. Like, Final Four caliber good. There is no shame in losing to them. If this had been a road game, I wouldn't have had any second thoughts about it. But the trepidation was there because it was a home again and the crowd showed up.
In his postgame press conference, Cal admitted that maybe he let go of the reigns a little bit because of how mature the team has been thus far. He had commented earlier in the week that they had not had a bad practice so far. He even canceled the pre-game shoot-around, something he later lamented. Cal fell victim to his own hubris to an extent by maybe forgetting that this team, no matter how mature they have been so far, is still dominated by freshmen.
Derek Willis and Malik Monk both admitted in their postgame comments that there was a lack of focus by the team and that UCLA played more disciplined basketball. Monk in particular said that some of the players freelanced a bit instead of running the plays Cal called from the bench.
The fact that the players and Cal were able to identify the issues gives me confidence that the flaws will be corrected sooner than later. There wasn't a talent gap, and the young ‘Cats did fight back in the end when it looked like they were ready to fold.
In the end, this loss can be spun as a positive because now Calipari can point to this game in order to remind the young players that he knows what's best. And maybe Cal will be a little more focused in the future.
The TaxSlayer Bowl is a HUGE deal
After starting 0-2, Mark Stoops' ‘Cats were broken, beaten, and left for dead. Nobody at that point thought a bowl game was possible, let alone going 4-4 in the SEC and beating Louisville on their field on Senior Day.
And yet here we are, playing in the best bowl game since Tim Couch took the ‘Cats to the Outback Bowl back in the nineties. While the TaxSlayer Bowl isn't one of the big six, it is a New Year's Eve Bowl against a quality ACC opponent. This is bigger than the Music City Bowl or the Independence Bowl.
The final win over the Cardinals vaulted the Wildcats into national attention. People took notice, and they were rewarded for their efforts. Now Stoops and his staff have results that they can point to when they are visiting recruits, and they have a solid foundation to build upon in the future.
Kentucky football is on the upswing.
Mark Stoops is Delivering
I will admit it; I was wavering in regards to Mark Stoops. After two seasons of near misses and a disastrous start to 2016, I was almost ready to call for his job. I never went that for, but I was very critical and I didn't think he was cut out to coach Division I football.
Stoops never wavered, though. In the face of growing dissent from the fans, losing, player injuries, and nasty rumors, he kept going to work and never once lost faith in his staff or his team. As tired as we were of the phrase, "We are going to get back to work," it ended up being the mantra of 2016. They got back to work, and they fixed the problems.
Eddie Gran reconfigured the offense into a running juggernaut. Stoops took control of the defense, and it improved. Stephen Johnson went from an unknown player to the unquestioned quarterback heading into 2017. Mark Stoops delivered on his promises that he made when he was hired. Kentucky is winning, and Kentucky is going bowling.
Now we will see how the team handles expectations going to a bowl and beyond. This is rarefied air. Stoops inherited a train wreck, and it took him four years to get it back on track. Luckily Mitch Barnhart was more patient than some of us were.
The recruiting is about to pick up again, and I've never been more excited about the future of Kentucky football.
Don't Believe the Cardinal Hype
The UK Hoops team lost a close one in overtime to the UofL women's team. The UK ladies were ranked #17 at the time while the UofL ladies were ranked #7. This is the first time that Louisville has defeated Kentucky in women's basketball in six games.
That was also the first loss that the ‘Cats have suffered to the Cards dating back to baseball season. UK is now 4-1 in the new season against their most hated rivals. Kentucky has been dominant in every sport outside of football and recently baseball.
But that's not the narrative being sold on Floyd Street. That's not what Tom Jurich sycophants want to admit. Kentucky is supposed to be a one-trick pony with basketball as the only sport that matters. This isn't true, and it never has been.
While Jurich is widely regarded as one of the best AD's in the country, and rightfully so to some extent, Mitch Barnhart is an afterthought, within the state in particular. Jurich gets credited all the time with new facilities and building upgrades. Has anyone cared to look at the campus in Lexington lately? Jurich is credited with having all-around better sports programs. Has anyone checked the over-all head-to-head records lately or the Capital One Cup rankings?
The fact is Barnhart has Kentucky in just as good or even better shape than Jurich has UofL in, and without multiple cringe-worthy scandals. But Barnhart isn't a boisterous loud-mouth. He doesn't guarantee victories months before the game is played. Barnhart is a soft-spoken man that would rather talk about results than get into a macho whizzing competition.
And look at the character of the coaches in comparison. Bobby Petrino dropped UofL like a bad habit and Jurich hired him back after Charlie Strong bolted, even when nobody in college football would touch him. Rick Pitino has had his own sex scandal to go along with the current team sex scandal that will certainly result in more NCAA sanctions. Pitino hasn't had to face one suspension or punishment from Jurich.
So UofL can do what they do best, talk and bluster about their programs. I'm more than happy with where Barnhart has the University, and I wouldn't trade him for Jurich for all the IRS/NCAA/FBI investigations in the world.