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Kentucky Football

Kentucky Football: Sometimes Indifference is the Precursor to Jubilation

July 11, 2018
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For this piece, I wanted to look at reasons that this Football Season could (maybe even *should*) be the best under Stoops, even though it just does not ‘feel’ like it right now. This idea began when the report about season ticket sales being down 10% came out.

First, I want to address why ticket season sales are down. Much to the chagrin of the ‘legion of the miserable’ fans out there who crave negativity; this is not a case of a fan base not appreciating the team or even Mark Stoops. It is certainly not that “a good chunk of the fanbase doesn’t care”, as TJ Walker puts it:

Here are the factors that are concurrently contributing to this in the order of significance, in my opinion:

  • The Florida streak lives… and the manner in how it lives
    • The Florida streak just flat out sucks, it does, especially when you consider the loss in the swamp when the Gators play clock hit zero, but the people that were supposed to pay attention to it didn’t.
    • Then there is the following year when a dropped touchdown spelled defeat in the first quarter.
    • Then there is last year’s loss when 3 moments destroyed a fan base so hungry for the win that it may have literally broken them inside: 1&2) the two uncovered receivers and 3) the hold preventing the school’s greatest kicker of all-time from a veritable chip shot for the win. The fans never really recovered from that loss to be perfectly honest.
  • The Northwestern Loss/subsequent final record
    • Let’s be real for a moment, Northwestern was the better team, AND Benny Snell got ejected from a game where the only plausible explanation was a ref on the take (not saying that is what happened, just saying the absurdity with how it did happen cannot be explained rationally). However, the Cats had a chance to win and were another heartbreaking final play from doing it. The loss itself, in a vacuum, is not a bad one, but it did finalize a season that finished 7-6 instead of an on-paper improved 8-5. If UK wins that game and goes into the off-season with this team coming and an improved 8-win season, I guarantee season tickets are not down.
  • Economics/Experience
    • To buy season tickets is an investment and the ‘return’ on that investment is just not appealing enough these days. This is not necessarily a UK problem either; it is a college football problem. In a world of 4k, Ultra High Definition TVs that can be had for less than $500 and being able to literally have a better view and environment in your own home is simply a cheaper, less hassle, more comfortable option. The only way UK and the rest of the NCAA can combat this is to provide a better experience for the fans. This encompasses A LOT of things, such as Wi-Fi, food options, alcohol sales, parking/tailgating improvements, and other stuff. To recap, this is not to say that it costs too much, it is simply to say that the cost is not worth the return or experience of today’s environment.
  • The Schedule
    • Every other year the home schedule is simply not as attractive of a draw due to three games; 1) Florida, 2) Louisville, and 3) Tennessee. This year all three of those winnable, marquee names are on the road. Another marquee matchup (for fans) would be Texas A&M, but it is in College Station. The home schedule has only one *real* draw to it, Georgia… with South Carolina (due to the win streak) an honorable mention.

 

The Lack of ‘Hype’

I am confident in saying that this off-season and pre-season has been the least anticipated or hyped yet for Mark Stoops. I think the aforementioned reason for season ticket sales being down is the driver... but is it really appropriate for this coming team?

The short answer is no, this team has A LOT of positives and opportunity. However, being a Kentucky Football fan has historically been the real-life equivalent of Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold the ball for him. Big Blue Nation buys in and then gets their hearts broken.

I think last season was a season that really broke many fans. It is not to say that they will not be rooting like hell this fall, they will. It is only to say that the palpable hunger for a winning season has regressed into ‘wait and see’ mode.

This is not a bad thing or the correct or incorrect way to go about this; it simply is what it is. I am confident you will see the crowds grow at Kroger Field with each win and ultimately it will get back to the fever pitch it was for the Florida game last season.

However, at this point, it simply is not there yet... and will not be there unless UK shows the growth the fans are demanding.

I wanted to use this part to point out the reasons for excitement for this season.

  • Benny Snell
    • Enough said, this guy is the best running back in the SEC and one of the tops in the nation coming into 2018. He is also within striking distance of the all-time career rushing record. Snell is sitting at 2,424 yards in his two years, leaving him 1,411 yards away from the record. 13 games would mean an average of 109 yards per game… something Snell is VERY capable of accomplishing. You are also likely seeing Snell for the last time. If he has the aforementioned record-breaking season; he is very likely to be a high draft pick next spring.
  • Returning Starters
    • Kentucky returns 17 starters, the most in the SEC. They return nearly every defensive starter and lead the SEC in returning defensive production as well. The loss of Denzil Ware to transfer is a blow, but Kentucky has developed a strong linebacking corp to mitigate the loss. Games are won and lost on Saturday’s in the south on the back of two areas of a team; 1) the running game and 2) defense. With the returning starters on defense and Benny Snell likely reaching the pinnacle of his career, those are two MAJOR checkboxes needed on winning in the SEC
  • NFL Talent on display
    • It has been a LONG time since UK has had significant NFL presence in any draft. This upcoming NFL Draft will be a major shift toward significance on that night. Kentucky likely has 4 NFL draft picks (maybe up to 7) on this team in the following
      • Mike Edwards
      • Benny Snell
      • Josh Allen
      • CJ Conrad
      • Derrick Baity (Possible)
      • Landon Young (Possible)
      • Logan Stenberg (Possible)
      • Jordan Jones (wildcard – Could turn into a high draft pick or be lucky to get a training camp invite)
  • Lynn Bowden
    • While the sophomore was not a significant contributor as a true freshman, he did show flashes of brilliance and the electricity he was tabbed with in high school. One of the bigger jumps players make is from their freshman year to sophomore. Bowden has big things planned for #BBN and while his goal of a Heisman is a stretch, aiming for the moon and falling amongst the starts is not a bad thing

  • The Bottom Line – Winnable Games
    • While Kentucky has A LOT of tough matchups on the road, the amount of winnable (at least at this point, you cannot make an accurate statement like this until about week 3) games at first glance consist of the following, in order what I feel is most winnable to least winnable:
      • vs. Murray State (no explanation needed)
      • vs. Middle Tennessee St (no gimme, but a loss here means it went off the rails)
      • vs. Central Michigan (Vegas pegs UK as a 17-point favorite)
      • vs. South Carolina (4-game winning streak and UK is better than last year and it’s at home)
      • vs. Vanderbilt (Kentucky’s the better team, period)
      • At Missouri (Drew Lock is back, otherwise this game moves above South Carolina on my list. UK held him in check last season and the entire secondary that did it is back, and being on the road in Missouri is not a decided home field advantage)
      • At Tennessee (Jeremy Pruitt is a 1st-year head coach without a decided quarterback and A TON of losses on defense. Year 1 is gonna be tough for them, a win in Knoxville is very possible)
      • At Louisville (No more Lamar Jackson, period)
      • At Florida (yes, it’s the swamp, but Stoops has proven he *can* get to the edge of a win there… with Florida recruiting not being strong the last few years and Mullen in year 1, combined with the bitterness of last year loss, this is a winnable game)
      • vs. Mississippi State (The Bulldogs and Nick Fitzgerald absolutely hammered UK in Starkville last year. It was a clear mismatch. The 2 wildcards that *could* help UK pull one out are Nick Fitzgerald’s recovery and yet another coach in year 1)
      • At Texas A&M (it's college station… for the first time… I don’t see the Cats going down there and getting one)
      • vs. Georgia (they’re just too good)
  • That is 10 ‘winnable’ games, in my opinion. Winnable is not to say they should win them, it is to say that in a perfect world with some breaks... it could happen. I think UK can take that schedule, with the veterans they now have and conceivably win 8 games heading into a bowl game for a possible 9th.

 

‘UNEXPECTED’ Success

Many times, likely more often than not, a successful season is somewhat unexpected… especially when compared to the seasons where the hype and anticipation are at a fever pitch. How often does the pre-season title favorite actually win it? It is almost seemingly an annual experience to see a program rise up and make national noise completely unexpectedly.

How many times have you been worked up about a season for your team (be it UK, or a pro sports team) that is supposed to be special, only to see it not meet expectations? Sometimes those amazing seasons are not the ones everyone predicts.

I think this is a very likely scenario for this coming UK Football team. Suppressed anticipation bordering on indifference (basketball recruiting /Bahamas hype has exacerbated this, by the way) could be the formula for this team to truly deliver to those ‘wait and see’ fans what they have been wanting for years now.

Here is to unexpected jubilation in December, Big Blue Nation.

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Kentucky Football: Sometimes Indifference is the Precursor to Jubilation

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