If Twitter is real life (spoiler alert: it is not), then major changes are needed for both the UK football team and the UK men’s basketball team. Each is struggling, or so it seems. It is undeniable that on the gridiron, the fans and the team itself had higher aspirations. Also true is the fact that no UK team ever expects to lose to Richmond in Rupp no matter the circumstance.
But, as a word of caution, I would suggest that we all step back from the ledge in both instances. In other words, it’s going to be OK, Cats fans.
Let’s start with football. When the season began I mentioned to several people that 5-5 would be a great year. I know many scoff bitterly at such low expectations, but a 10 game SEC slate is brutal under normal circumstances, much less in the midst of a global pandemic, and in the midst of trying to redesign the UK offense yet again. Add to that a road schedule with games at Auburn, Alabama, Florida, and UT. Then add the loss of a teammate to illness, and the loss of a coach (and far more than that obviously) to cancer. Then consider the number of players lost to COVID protocols, the re-arrangement of the schedule, and so forth.
The end result is that with a win against South Carolina (not a given by any stretch), it will have been a pretty darn good season all things considered. And here is why…
4-6 in the SEC is pretty decent no matter what. Two losses will haunt these Cats. One at an improved Missouri team that came with some obvious emotional baggage. The other an OT loss to an explosive Ole Miss squad that ended unfortunately with a rare and flukish missed PAT. Reverse even one of those outcomes and I think we would all be pleased. Reverse both and it has been a banner year for sure.
Secondly, we beat UT on the road 34-7. I believe in rivalry. And with the absence of UofL on the schedule, UT was the only true rivalry game we had. And we won it. On the road. That is worth something regardless of the overall picture.
Third, the season was played. Remember back in those early August days when the Big Ten (or 12 or 14 or ….) and Pac Ten (or 12 or 14 or…) had cancelled and it looked inevitable that all the other conferences would soon follow. All we fans wanted was a season. We said things often reserved for New Years resolutions that all amounted to, “If they just play, I will be happy and not complain no matter the results…I promise.” Some of us even believed it when we said it. But the reality is that a season has been played. It has had ups and down, thrills and disappointments, but it has been. And in this crazy year that is plenty good enough for me.
Still, people are ready for Eddie Gran to go, the back up quarterback is the most popular guy on the team, and some are ready for a change in the big seat as well. I get it. The offense has been downright offensive. But, I would say a word about those being criticized the most.
First, Mark Stoops has done a tremendous job overall and deserves the time to continue to build this program. 4 straight bowl games, 1 ten win season, a New Years Bowl victory over Penn State, these are not things UK fans should toss away lightly. I know we all dream of being in the SEC title game or even something bigger, but it just ain’t that easy. And, no, higher expectations from the fan base isn’t the answer. Look at the Detroit Lions who in their pursuit to have “higher expectations” traded in a solid Jim Caldwell, who at least put the Lions in a position to compete, for the next shiny object. Of course that shiny new object leaves now with Lions in compete disarray and seeing the end of the Matthew Stafford era with nothing to show for it.
As for Eddie Gran, the man has taken lemons and turned it into lemonade many times over. His first year Drew Barker and company were going to sling it all over the earth. A QB injury and an 0-2 start later, he renovated in season and found Boom and Benny and Stephen Johnson and a win over UofL. Last season saw more of the same as a really crisp looking Terry Wilson went down, and the offense did what it needed to do and transformed into the Lynn Bowden Show which led to more on-field success and one of my all-time favorite plays in the game winning pass to Josh Ali. Folks love to criticize the play caller. But people tend to forget this is not Techmo Bowl. It’s not as simple as selecting a toss to Bo Jackson and letting the computer do the rest. Gran coaches real people, playing real football. And by the way, remember, the other team is trying too.
Terry Wilson too has been much maligned, but we will never know how Touchdown Terry could have excelled because of both injury and pandemic. For a guy who has a winning record, a ten win season, a win on the road at Florida, Tennessee, and Louisville, it would seem all the fan base would have to say is a great big thank you.
As for hoops, you have to trust Cal by now or you never did and you never will. This program is a year in, year out contender for the national title. This year will be no exception. Would I love to see better play than what we saw Sunday? Sure. Am I guessing we will see that? Absolutely. Of all the things I worry about in this world, a loss to a veteran, talented A-10 squad is not one of them.
It’ll be OK folks. I am sure of it.