As Big Blue Nation said goodbye to this year’s senior class on Saturday at Kroger Field, you couldn’t help but look for No. 26 on the sidelines and soak in what might have been his final game in a Kentucky Wildcats uniform.
As usual, the best place to find Benny Snell was in the end zone as he rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns as the Cats moved to 8-3 on the season.
As the home crowd celebrated one of the best football seasons since the 1980s, fans couldn’t help by wonder if Snell, a junior running back, was also making his final home appearance. UK Coach Mark Stoops obviously was thinking the same thing during his post-game press conference after a 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee State.
“I’ll let Benny make that announcement at the appropriate time,” Stoops said. “That position is clearly different. The upside — he stands some to lose by coming back, where other guys, they all gain by coming back. You have to look at it differently.”
Stoops said he will talk with players individually at the conclusion of the season. However, he said “I don’t think it will be a long conversation” when thinking ahead to Snell’s exit meeting.
Snell, once considered a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, already holds his place in the UK record books and needs just 207 yards to catch Sonny Collins as the school’s all-time leading rusher. Collins rushed for 3,835 yards between 1972-1975. He’ll have a chance next week as the Cats close out the regular season at Louisville and then gear up for what many hope will be a high-profile Bowl Game that puts an exclamation point on the season.
While the excitement of UK football has reached a fever pitch this year, an inefficient offense and injuries to key defensive players have brought the momentum to a screeching halt with back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Georgia. After cracking the Top 15 in national polls and talk of an SEC title jut a few weeks ago, the sour taste of disappointment was on full display as a sparse crowd was on hand for Senior Day.
Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was the opponent. Maybe it was just the heartbreak of back-to-back defeats.
For Benny Snell, maybe, just maybe, it’s time to go out on top.
My prediction is that UK wins out to finish at 10-3 with Snell breaking the all-time rushing record in a Bowl Game victory - his very last appearance in a Kentucky jersey. Here’s three reasons why:
Nothing Left To Prove: Snell has already established himself as one of the all-time greats and will forever be a part of UK’s rise to national respect in the SEC, considered the nation’s best football conference. It’s now just a matter of rewriting a few school records and celebrating a Bowl victory. Once that happens, “The Jet” can take off and prepare for Draft Day.
Frustration With The Offense: Benny’s frustration level with the offense has finally reached a boiling point as he recently challenged his teammates to dig deep and become “hungry” again to right the ship after tough loses to Tennessee and Georgia. Snell said “We’ve got to eliminate those guys that don’t have that hunger. Don’t have (it) anymore, we don’t need you.” You also have to consider that Eddie Gran has been on the hot seat all season for conservative play calling and you have to wonder if Snell has the patience for a new look offense (or possibly a new offensive coordinator for 2019).
Possible Injury: He may not admit it, but Snell is pretty beat up this year after being a marked man all season. While Snell has never complained about being a work horse in the backfield, he also knows that the constant wear and tear on his body can take its toll. Why risk another season of potential injury when he can make millions in the NFL with a balanced offense and less stress on his mind and body? Snell has given his blood, sweat and tears to UK football. His health might be a different story.
My advice is to enjoy every minute of next week’s game at Louisville and start planing your “Watch Party” for what’s sure to be an epic Bowl Game to close the season. Now, more than ever, it’s time to give thanks and celebrate a special season.
As for the Benny Snell Watch, all we can really do is appreciate his greatness and keep looking toward the end zone.