While our summers have been consumed by the 2016 Presidential campaign, the most important run of Mark Stoops career as head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats football coach gets started in slightly more than 48 hours. Stoops has fallen just short of a bowl bid the past two seasons, but there is renewed optimism in the Commonwealth that his will be his breakthrough campaign.
Here at ASOB, we have been furiously polling in the key battleground states, and we are able to release our first look at the electoral map. As you can see, it is going to be a hard-fought campaign with 12 tough primaries for Stoops and company and without any further hype, let's look at the map.
If you are a Kentucky Football fan, there is a lot to like about the map. Let's take a look at the areas that are trending as a strong blue right now.
Southern Mississippi, Kentucky's first test falls into this category. Some pundits have the Golden Eagles as a trendy upset pick, but this is their first game under a new coaching regime, and Kentucky should be further motivated with Shannon Dawson on the opposing sideline. While it is a strong blue, like any game, it is a game that Kentucky can lose if they don't show up. Southern Miss has a lot of weapons, but I am counting on a Kentucky offense to be clicking on all cylinders to win in a shoot-out.
There are also dark blue areas to represent Austin Peay and New Mexico State. These teams were a combined 3-20 last year in the OVC and Sun Belt. There is not any amount of polling that will turn these from the strong blue color.
The last strong blue primary in South Carolina may be a little odd to see, but it is a game Kentucky must win. The Gamecocks are coming off a 3-9 season, and Kentucky has won two straight against them. Simply put, if Kentucky is to take the next step, it should win this game at home, and South Carolina has way too many holes to make this a toss up game.
Aside from the "what should be sure wins", Kentucky has a couple of other opportunities to put a notch in the W column. The Vanderbilt game is really close to being in the "strong blue" camp, but I can not get the memories of last year's performance against the Commodores out of my mind. Granted, this game is at home and like the South Carolina game, it is a game Kentucky must win.
Missouri is the last game in the blue column and is a game that Kentucky should be favored in. Kentucky beat the Tigers last year at home, which helped trigger a virtual free fall for Missouri, and the Tigers will be hard pressed to be much better than the team that finished last season. Granted, it is on the road, but if Kentucky is to truly turn the corner, this is needed.
As with any campaign, you do encounter the negatives and that is where we run into the strong red games. At this time, I do not see any reason to move the road games of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia into a toss-up status, so let's cut our losses and move on. Future polling may change this trend, but I do not see it right now.
Finally, we come to the last category - the leaning red games. No one knows what Luke Del Rio is going to be able to do with the Gators offense and for that reason, this is still a toss-up in my mind. Del Rio has a game against UMass to prepare for the SEC, and that is something that should be in UK's favor. Throw in the fact that Kentucky has fought the Gators tooth and nail for the last season and just that this streak has to end sometime. Those that have followed me in the past will call me out on this train of thought for mist of the last decade, but it will end at some point. Why not now?
While I had Florida as a "leaning red" because of my unbridled hope and optimism, the Louisville game is still in the "leaning" category because I hate Louisville and am too stubborn to admit that this is probably a lost cause game. It is a rivalry game which is why I cling to the toss-up label, but in reality, Kentucky won't win this for a couple of reasons. First is that Louisville is a pretty darn good team, and this is a home game. The second is the fact that Lamar Jackson is on the roster, and we have yet to see a Kentucky defense that can handle a player like him.
That is the beauty of polls in both the political world and in the world of sports. All of this can change in the course of a week or two. That is the beauty of sports. For now, I have to like the odds of Kentucky getting to a poll and winning seven games. Even if I am off a game, it looks like the Mark Stoops bowl-less era is over, and Kentucky football is trending up.
If I look familiar to you, I am, I started the Wildcat Blue Nation site seven years ago and was the managing editor for six years. I took a break from writing last summer and am glad to be writing about the Wildcats for A Sea of Blue.