Nov 24, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats running back Jonathan George (25) scores a touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-US PRESSWIRE

University of Kentucky Football: A New Hope

“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane… and cause him to renew his UK Football season tickets…”

- Red, Shawshank Redemption (sorta)

 

Nov 17, 2012; Lexington , KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats athletic director Mitch Barnhart on the sidelines during the game against the Samford Bulldogs at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE

 

Finally.

After years and years and decades of waiting, the Big Blue Nation finally has hope for the success of the football team. After near misses and situations that didn’t quite work out, Mitch Barnhart, the UK Athletic Director, has let it be known that the University of Kentucky is committed to excelling in the toughest football conference in the land, the SEC.

For decades, the UK administration had seemed content on being on the lower ladder in the Southeastern Conference.  Unable or unwilling to roll with the Alabamas and LSUs of the league, UK had settled into a pattern of being bad to mediocre with a few truly thrilling moments sprinkled in.  And that seemed to be alright, even with the fans, as Commonwealth Stadium was routinely filled to capacity on those fall Saturdays.

And still, for a hardcore group of fans, that wasn’t enough. They had hope that UK could be better.

When Florida won the BCS title in 2006, the landscape in the SEC changed. A tough league got tougher and the arms race of facilities and coaches’ salaries increased dramatically.  Florida’s run away win over Ohio State began a run of six straight BCS title championships for the conference and raised the stakes for every member from Gainesville to Columbia, Lexington and now even to College Station.  The conference expanded by adding Missouri and Texas A&M  just as longtime members began to expand their football stadiums and weightrooms and add to already massive football complexes.

It’s fair to say that since the dramatic overtime win over LSU in 2007, the UK Football program has been in decline.  Just as the rest of the conference seemed to show signs of improving, it looked as if The Wildcats would be left behind. Sure, the Cats haven’t had a history of sustained success on the gridiron, but there had always been hope. Hope that we were one coach or one big time recruit away from being competitive on a game to game, year to year basis. And as the 2012 season wound to a close with the dismissal of head coach Joker Phillips, the fan base was without the hope that had sustained them for generations.

One Tuesday, November 27, Mitch Barnhart finally showed the boldness that I, along with countless others had called for. By bringing in head coach Mark Stoops and committing to facility improvements and upgrades, the University of Kentucky is boldly proclaiming that they will no longer be the doormat of the SEC… that the commitment to excellence (with apologies to the Oakland Raiders and Al Davis) is in Lexington. Not just for Men’s basketball, but for football as well.

Building a winning program won’t be easy and it won’t be fast, but in one fell swoop, Barnhart has given the Big Blue Nation something that we desperately needed: Hope.

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

- Andy, Shawshank Redemption

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