August is always a crazy time for football, and usually even crazier when the football you’re talking about is University of Kentucky Wildcat football.
Reports out of spring and summer camps are that Kentucky is getting “bigger, faster and stronger.” Call-in shows and the print media are always full of predictions on how the Cats will get to the magic six victories necessary to make them bowl eligible. Six wins out of 12 games is considered mediocre by most standards, but for most Wildcat fans it would be perceived as a huge step forward. Bowl eligibility equals nirvana in Big Blue speak.
A couple of years ago, Bruce, who had grown up in Versailles was working in my office on an interim assignment. He had been a Wildcat fan as a young man. Sometime in the early 90s he moved to Budapest, Hungary where he married, raised two sons and worked at his musical craft.
Because the Internet was only in its infancy then, and it took a lot of effort to find an American newspaper, Bruce eventually stopped keeping up with the comings and goings of Kentucky football.
When he left the United States in the early 1990s, Lexington papers were full of stories about the lack of experience, lack of depth and the injuries that were mounting up for the team. To counter that, there were reports that UK was getting better players and seemed to be getting ever closer to looking like a SEC team.
When Bruce returned to Lexington and opened the sports pages in 2011, he said he thought he was reading the same articles he had been 20 years before.
Playing four teams in the top 20, plus trips to the swamp for the Florida Gators and to Columbia, Missouri to play the Tigers (UK has won one out of the last 24 road games), gives the likelihood of winning six games a razor-thin margin of error. Add to that a home game against Mississippi State (winners of seven straight vs the Cats) and other home games against SEC foe South Carolina and the very dangerous season opener vs. Southern Mississippi and it makes six victories very difficult to achieve.
Many, many Wildcat fans get the feeling that we have been here before. It has been over 60 years since Kentucky played in a major bowl game. This year, season ticket sales are reported to be down 14 percent. Apparently a contingent of Big Blue fans can’t even bear to watch.
As with Cub fans, there are Wildcat football fans that always enter the year full of optimism, dreaming this will be the season the Cats turn the proverbial corner. This year’s optimists point to the three straight good recruiting classes by coach Mark Stoops, the investment by the university in upgraded facilities and the return of many of the top players from last year, especially on offense. During the build-up to the season, Stoops is stressing to all who will listen the change that is occurring in the “culture” of the program and to the “capacity” of this team.
I spent some time this summer with Uncle Elmer Lee and he continues to warn me about the dangers of drinking the “Big Blue Kool-Aid.” But on lazy summer days sitting around with friends there is not anything more refreshing. I didn’t mean to, but I accidentally took a few swigs. Now I am dreaming about being at a warm-weather bowl game for the holidays. As it is with a large contingent of UK fans, the season seems to be full of promise. Am I in for another season of heartbreak?