Like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football against Lucy, Kentucky Football fans have gotten to the point where disappointment has gone from expected to almost welcomed. The Football Faithful has seen last second miracle plays snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (Florida, LSU). They’ve seen the Cats go into seven overtimes against the Arkansas Razorbacks and lose. Far too often, it’s been painfully obvious that no matter how hard the players have worked or how hard the coaches have prepared them, the talent hasn’t been there to consistently win in the SEC. Promises have been made before, so what makes this time different?
After speaking with longtime Kentucky football fans from around The Commonwealth , it’s clear that this time feels different. New Head Coach Mark Stoops is giving us change we can believe in and it has started on the recruiting trail. Because the state of Kentucky doesn’t produce enough Division 1 (I know it’s FBS or FCBS or whatever now, but I like keeping it old school) caliber high school football talent, it’s always been a premium that Kentucky makes strong inroads with its out of state recruiting. Previous coaching staffs have focused on going South and hitting Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. And while that has been somewhat successful, finding a few diamonds in the rough, it hasn’t been enough to sustain any sort of consistency. With his deep ties in the state of Ohio, Coach Stoops has ventured across the Ohio River and has returned with 3 and 4 star caliber players. Again, recruiting those ranked players with the interlocked “UK” logo on your chest is masterful and there’s no wonder the Big Blue Nation is yelling, “Yahtzee!”
The other issues that plague Kentucky football are going to take some time to fix. It may not be time to get a brand new stadium, it’s way past time to upgrade Commonwealth Stadium and the Nutter training facility. The landscape of SEC football today demands that Kentucky needs to stop trying to catch up with the pack and take a bold leap forward to catch up with the Alabamas and LSUs of the conference. Sure, that’s pretty bold for a program at the stage where Kentucky is, but at some point, the UK Athletic Administration, most notably Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, will have to be bold and commit resources to moving the football program forward.
The byproduct of all this excitement with recruits and getting resources from the administration means that the fans are getting excited. The loyal and patient Big Blue Football fans are getting excited about UK Football once again. They are starting to believe in Coach Stoops and what he’s doing. For the first time in a long time, there’s a strong belief that the days of Kentucky being a perennial doormat in the SEC are going to be over soon. Most importantly, Stoops and Barnhart are giving the Big Blue Nation hope. As Andy Dufresne wrote to Red in the Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing eve dies.” Finally, Wildcat fans, Lucy is going to hold that football. The question is, will we be ready to kick it?