This is the best time of year if you are a University of Kentucky football fan. This is the time of year when hope springs eternal. The close games against the University of Tennessee and Louisiana State University fill you with optimism. As you count down the days to opening kickoff September 1st, you are sure this is the year. You look over the Cats' 2002 schedule and you somehow rationalize them winning five, waitsix, no, no, make it SEVEN games. The opportunity to dream is what keeps you coming back to Commonwealth Stadium. That is why it breaks my heart to do this to you: But for the record, the Cats are not very good. In fact, they will probably be pretty bad. And the sad thing is, due to the problems left by the Hal Mumme regime, it will not get any better in the next couple of years.
Being a Chicago Cubs baseball fan, I am no stranger to the Wonderful World of Sports Dreamland, where hope is king, and logic never comes to visit. Unfortunately, they play the games in the real world. Where some people see a talented quarterback with a cannon for an arm, others see a 3-14 record as a starter and a weight problem that makes you question his off-season commitment. You remember the last-second losses to top 10 teams like UT and LSU, others remember the actual last game of the season, where the entire squad stunk it up against Indiana. The Wildcat Faithful will tell you that our new Athletic Director is a football guy who will help Head Coach Guy Morris turn this thing around, but it's possible he'll only help Guy Morris to the unemployment line.
Why the negativity? Well, is there any reason to think that this is the year that it will all come together? Is there one thing that makes you believe that this team has the depth and talent to post a winning record against one of the toughest schedules in the country? The only time in the past 10 years when UK showed promise was when they had All-American quarterback Tim Couch. And Jared Lorenzen, however talented he may be, is not Tim Couch.
The schedule for UK breaks down into four groups: The games where they have no chance; the games where they have a small chance; the games where they have a 50-50 chance; and the games they really should win.
The first group is easy: UK has no chance to beat Florida, Tennessee, or Georgia. It's not going to happen, no matter how close the game was last year with UT. It doesn't matter that Steve Spurrier is in Washington D.C. It doesn't matter how we hung with the Bulldogs. It is not going to happen. The University of Louisville likes to make a big deal out of playing Florida State this year. Well unfortunately, UK has to play that sort of game about three times a season.
The next group: if UK plays their top game, and the other team does not, they have a chance. These teams are South Carolina, Arkansas, and LSU. For some reason, a lot of people are picking the South Carolina game as the chance for UK to post a big upset. If you've followed college football long enough, you know that when it looks like Lou Holtz may not have the horses, he's really at his most dangerous. Arkansas is not that good, but the game is in Arkansas, so that would make it a hard row to hoe for UK. The LSU game, well, who knows, perhaps Nick Saban was overrated as a coach. The 50-50 games could be the most interesting. Mississippi State, UL, and Middle Tennessee State are in this group. UK should have beaten MSU the past two years, but "shoulda" do not count for much in the SEC. The Cats better hope they have not missed their window with Jackie Sherrill's Bulldogs. UL has beaten UK three years in row, and they are ranked in the top 20 with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback. It is a rivalry game, meaning you can throw the records out the window, but since they will both be at 0-0 that probably won't be necessary, but still, this will always be a 50-50 game. The talent disparity is not that large between these two teams. My upset pick is that Middle Tennessee, a team that espn.com's Gene Wojciechowski called one of the most underrated in the country, will beat UK at Commonwealth on September 21st. They will have already played Alabama and Tennessee, so the Cats will probably look a little soft to them. A loss in this game, by the way, will officially start the countdown to Midnight Madness.
They should beat Texas-El Paso, Indiana, and Vanderbilt. These teams are as bad, and possibly worse, than the Cats, and all of these games are at home. Indiana and Vanderbilt feature new head coaches, but the chances of that dramatic an improvement are pretty slim.
I am predicting two wins in the "should category," with IU as the dirty dogs who steal a victory. I also believe UK will win one game in the 50-50 group, and as much as I wish it to be UL, it will probably be Mississippi State. A record of 3-9 and declining attendance is not going to keep Guy Morris employed. The quickest way for an AD to make a name for himself is with a big hire in football or basketball. Since I do not think Tubby Smith is going anywhere this year, all signs point to Guy Morris. I could be wrong.
However, history's shown that picking UK to lose in football is not exactly going out on a limb.
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