Entering week four of the 2017 season, Kentucky finds itself as one of five SEC unbeatens. Top-ranked Alabama and 11th-ranked Georgia are no surprises to this list, but many did not expect Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State to be the other three undefeated SEC teams through the first three games.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 18, 2017
Mississippi State: 3-0
The last time that happened ... 1911.
With a dominating, 37-7 performance over #12 LSU at home, Mississippi State broke through the top 25 this week, landing at number 17 in the AP Poll. After upsetting 18th-ranked Kansas State, Vanderbilt is knocking on the door of the Top 25, rendering the fourth-most votes of any other team outside the AP Top 25 with 83 votes. Look back five more spots in the “others receiving votes” list, and you’ll find Kentucky with just 11 votes, despite having beaten both Southern Miss (2-1) and South Carolina (2-1) on the road.
I was far from surprised when I saw the Cats were not ranked this week, but I do think that Kentucky is the most underrated team in the conference at this moment. Sure, UK seemed to struggle a bit in its only home game to put away Eastern Kentucky, but when you look at the improvements Kentucky was able to make after starting last season 1-2, there is quite a bit of optimism surrounding the Wildcats, at least, in the state of Kentucky.
But for whatever reason, the national media does not want to give the Cats the benefit of the doubt.
Entering the South Carolina game, several analysts thought the Gamecocks had the momentum and were the more improved team, despite the fact that Kentucky had beaten South Carolina three years in a row.
Here was ESPN College Football analyst Alex Scarborough’s take ahead of Kentucky’s impressive performance in Columbia:
One game I've been eyeing is Kentucky-South Carolina. I've been high on the Gamecocks from the season's start and I'm not changing that now -- I think they take this one -- but what do you think?
Scarborough: I've been more reticent on South Carolina than you -- its youth and lack of quality depth still worries me despite the program obviously heading in the right direction -- but I'm coming around. Maybe it's the dark horse to win the East. The combination of Jake Bentley and Deebo Samuel is so much fun to watch. I'm going to go with the Gamecocks. Kentucky, to me, just doesn't have enough firepower on offense.
After the game, Mark Stoops definitely seemed to have a chip on his shoulder, and the Kentucky coach made sure the national media that picked the Gamecocks over Kentucky heard what he had to say.
“Quite honestly, we were tired of it,” Stoops said. “What, like we didn’t get better? Like we’re not a better football team? Whatever. We’re better.”
Stoops has his Wildcats feeding off of the doubt. And while Vanderbilt and Mississippi State garnered some deserved national hype after both knocked off ranked teams last weekend, we shouldn’t forget that Kentucky beat both of those teams in 2016 and finished with a better overall record at the end of the season.
- Alabama (3-0)
- Georgia (3-0)
- Mississippi State (3-0)
- Vanderbilt (3-0)
- Auburn (2-1)
- Florida (1-1)
- LSU (2-1)
- Kentucky (3-0)
- Tennessee (2-1)
- Arkansas (1-1)
- Texas A&M (2-1)
- South Carolina (2-1)
- Ole Miss (2-1)
- Missouri (1-2)
When you look at the personnel numbers, the Cats returned 15 total starters from a season ago, while Vanderbilt and South Carolina each returned 16, and Mississippi State returned 13. In 24/7 Sports’ 2017 football recruiting composite team rankings, South Carolina ranked 21st overall, Mississippi State-24th, Kentucky-30th, and Vanderbilt-65th.
There’s not a ton of variation in these numbers, but to reiterate, Kentucky beat all three teams last season and has already beaten one of them again on the road in 2017. Have Vanderbilt and Mississippi State improved from a year ago? Sure, but so has Kentucky. So what will it take for the national media to finally start talking about (and respecting) Kentucky?
Ending a 30-year losing streak would help.
The Wildcats have a golden opportunity Saturday, not just because it’s a beatable, ranked opponent at home, but because the significance of ending that streak is certainly a feat that will get people talking.