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Don’t Look Now… Kentucky Matters in Football

You would think that a team that is headed to their 4th consecutive Bowl trip, vying for their 4th consecutive Bowl win, who just clocked their 4th straight winning season wouldn’t need to do any sort of spin job to make people take notice. You would think that the fans of that program would be ecstatic, joyous, and football crazed after so many decades of futility. You would think a program that ranks 7th among the 62 teams with 13 or more Bowl appearances in terms of winning percentage would be the talk of the town. In Kentucky’s case this season, you would think wrong.

Those who don't believe... go stand in the corner

This isn’t the first time we’ve said it, it won’t be the last time we champion it, but the dream that Kentucky fans have had for years is finally coming to fruition, and yet, most in the fanbase approach the football Cats with an apathetic sort of indifference. They will point to the Mississippi State, Tennessee, and South Carolina games as empirical evidence that this team is unworthy of celebration. They will dream of what the record could have been had those three games resulted in Ws instead of Ls, and wistfully long for a 10-2 record instead of the respectable 7-5 that Kentucky ended up. Has Kentucky fans become copies of Notre Dame faithful? Have we forsaken the reasons for celebration in pursuit of the next brass ring, however unattainable it may currently be? Worse yet, have Kentucky fans become Louisville? Most Cardinal faithful sit by and watch their program transition from BCS Bowl penthouse to Big East outhouse in record epic time without so much as a care from the majority of their fanbase. Kentucky is going in the opposite direction, yet the fan result is ultimately the same.

On December 27th, Kentucky will face Clemson in Nashville at the Music City Bowl. Is this a premier Bowl destination? Traditionally, no. But let’s not lose sight of the opportunities this Bowl provides. All year long non-SEC fans have pointed to Kentucky and labeled them a middling mediocre team relegated to the margins in a power conference they do not belong in. In the Music City Bowl, Kentucky can showcase itself against a BCS conference runner up, and while the ACC is hardly the SEC, it is still an automatic qualifier and with several Top 25 programs. Kentucky can showcase its defense, its much maligned defense at times, against one of the most exciting and energizing players in college football in CJ Spiller. Minimizing Spiller will be challenging, but whether or not Kentucky can do it is not the primary question. It is whether or not doing it will matter in the eyes of our SEC peers.

As Kentucky’s 2009 season unfolded, and wins were achieved against Auburn and Georgia on the road, the feeling throughout the SEC blogosphere seemed always poised and ready to take a passing swipe at Kentucky as a fraud. Certainly their failure to beat Tennessee and Mississippi State contributed, but to base a season on two bad games is just as dangerous as basing it off two good ones. Was Kentucky the class of the SEC this season? Of course not. That mantle is reserved for Florida and Alabama. The second tier held for LSU and Ole Miss. It’s that third level, composed of the Tennessees, the Georgias, the South Carolinas and the Auburns that all seem hesitant to welcome any other members into their club. Will a Music City Bowl win change that? I can’t say for sure, but my guess is a resounding no.

So with the blog peers and the rest of college football decidedly content to relegate Kentucky to the Pile-O-Mediocrity, it becomes imperative for the fans of this program to rally. They, and they alone, will be responsible for championing this team, supporting this program, and standing behind the coaching staff that made it all possible. Grumbling about losses while ignoring the monumental wins, complaining about recruiting while forgetting the talent this staff has brought, and losing the current success for potential future bright spots and the hurry to get there is a disservice to the staff, the team, and the coaches that have brought Kentucky back from the ashes. The time to demand excellence will soon be upon us. For now, we should all be content to enjoy Nashville, support these Cats, and celebrate a 4th consecutive Bowl win.

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