When Kentucky started this year’s football season 5-0, you were having either one of two thoughts. Either "This is a fluke, the losses will come soon," or "This is Kentucky’s year."
As the season unraveled, so did the truth about this team. The losses did come, eventually. An overtime heartbreaker on a late night in College Station. A devastating loss to Georgia for the SEC East title. The week after, an embarrassing performance against conference rival Tennessee.
This season, however, was far from a fluke. The Wildcats were ranked nationally for the first time since 2007. A last-second win versus a tough Mizzou team vaulted them into the CFP committee’s Top 10, a placement beyond even the most diehard fan’s wildest dreams. The ending of a 31-year losing streak against Florida. A winning record in the SEC for the first time in over 40 years. A final ranking of 14th in the nation, a designation that you might mistake for belonging to the basketball team.
All of those by themselves? Perhaps a fluke. But in one season? Not a chance. There is no coincidence in this Kentucky football team. Everything that has been accomplished this season has been built on the blood, sweat and tears of this team, and they aren’t even close to being done. No, the Wildcats weren’t able to compete at the elite level that Alabama, Clemson and other powerhouses compete at, but make no mistake: this is Kentucky’s year.
The Cats are seeking their first Bowl win under Mark Stoops, and a New Years’ Day bowl is just the stage to do it on. They’re eager for a win, for redemption. Benny Snell, Jr. hasn’t forgotten his controversial ejection from last year’s Music City Bowl; I hope you haven’t either.
Snell, who is debatably the best offensive player in the history of the program (He holds the school record in for most rushing touchdowns in both a season and a career, and is the first player in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three different seasons) will suit up for the Cats one last time on New Years’ Day. The two-time All-SEC First Teamer has declared for the NFL Draft this spring, but knowing the spirit of Benny Snell and everything he has put into this team and this season, his eyes aren’t set on April 25th, but on January 1st.
Snell, of course, isn’t UK’s only weapon. In addition to dual-threat quarterback "Touchdown Terry" Wilson, the Wildcats have a top-ranked defense led by senior Josh Allen, linebacker extraordinaire. The All-American has recorded a school record of 28.5 sacks, half of which came this season. He was awarded the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and won two nationally-recognized awards for the best defensive player: The Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award.
The scraps of college football that Kentucky has lived off of for so many years are not enough to satisfy them anymore. They’re hungry, and now they have the strength to fight. Expect the claws to come out when the Wildcats and the Nittany Lions face off in the Citrus Bowl.
Bet on Kentucky.