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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: Non-Conference Football Schedule Edition

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The debate rages nearly every year — should UK upgrade their non-conference football schedule? Opinions vary, but objectively, the negatives outweigh the positives.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and welcome to the Tuesday Morning Quickies.

Every year, or at least every couple of years, the debate arises as to Kentucky football’s non-conference scheduling. Gentry Estes, a sportswriter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, argues thus:

According to a website designed to track such things, FBschedules.com, UK is set to face Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Eastern Illinois, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, Miami of Ohio, Northern Illinois, Youngstown State, Ball State, Eastern Kentucky, Akron, Ohio University, Murray State and South Alabama in the coming years.

Sigh.

UK football can do better.

No doubt this is true. But should Kentucky schedule tougher in the non-conference? We have had this debate many times on A Sea of Blue over lo, these 12 years since I have been around, and my position is relatively unchanged.

The biggest argument for upgrading the schedule is to improve Kentucky’s standing for the CFB Playoff race. Strength of schedule appears to me to be only a minor consideration for bowls below that level.

So should this actually be Kentucky’s goal? Has anyone seen in Kentucky the potential makings of a CFB Playoff program? If so, we should upgrade by all means.

But I honestly don’t see it, and never have. Here is an example article on the subject from way back in the early years of A Sea of Blue in 2007 when I was ruminating about the idea of changing conferences to help the football team’s fortunes:

So why am I pouring cold water all over our suddenly trendy team? Sometimes we have to face the facts, and look at reality. Rich Brooks is proving to be a fine coach, but he is no Steve Spurrier, or Nick Saban, or Mark Richt. Kentucky has a fine team, but in a conference like the SEC, we still, with all our great players, have the potential to be a conference doormat -- and the odds are way better for our season to suck than for us to win even a division title. It isn’t rah-rah, and it isn’t happy, but it is reality. The players at virtually every top SEC school are better, top to bottom, than ours are. And when you say “top school” in the SEC, you mean at least five programs.

Does that mean we won’t someday win a division, or even a league crown? No, of course not. We have done it before. I think we will go to our second bowl in a row this year, and we may upset one or two of the Great Powers getting there. But inevitably after a hot year or two, we sink back to a lower middle team, where we wander for years in the wilderness of mediocrity. Suppose we upgrade to where South Carolina is now -- mid-mediocrity. It is still mediocrity.

Last year, Kentucky managed to have a great season by the standards of any team, yet it didn’t even manage to win their division, let alone the SEC Conference Championship. Needless to say, the CFB Playoff was not even a legitimate consideration.

Looking at the recruiting, there is simply no way to get there from where we are today. Mark Stoops is doing a superb job, no doubt about it, but we are almost as far from being a CFB Playoff contender as we have ever been.

Based on this, I just don’t see how upgrading the schedule helps, and from Stoops’ standpoint, it can only hurt -- an upgraded schedule increases the chance of missing the post season, and it won’t take many of those to send him packing now that UK fans have the taste of success in their mouth, however modest.

If Kentucky’s recruiting ever manages to get to the level of, say, Tennessee or even South Carolina’s current level of success and stay there, then I would most likely reconsider this position. As it is today, it’s all downside as far as I am concerned, except to give Kentucky’s critics less fodder for tut-tutting Kentucky’s non-conference schedule.

I say that’s not a price worth paying.

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