If you compare football programs, Florida, even in its rejuvenating mode, is everything Kentucky wishes it could be and that has everything to do with why Saturday night’s game in Lexington is so important that scalpers are finding buyers for lower bowl sideline seats willing to fork over $500. Upper deck seats on the sidelines are fetching up to $300. It’s not uncommon for Kentucky basketball fans to pay those prices for a seat in Rupp to watch the mighty Wildcats, but this is football, which has been in a perpetual state of hard times since Bear Bryant left for Texas A&M following the 1953 season after a perceived snub by the school president.
When Bryant was the football coach, Kentucky went 60-23-5. The Wildcats went 11-1 in 1950 and beat co-national champion Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. In those days the final AP poll was taken BEFORE the bowls. Kentucky fans still wonder what might have been if the Wildcats had won the national championship. Would Bryant have stayed? It’s worth asking the question since the Wildcats are 278-387-12 since then with only pockets of football success. They were co-champs of the SEC in 1976 and went to a school-record five straight bowls under Rich Brooks from 2006-09 and Joker Phillips in 2010.
As big a football victory as Florida had in the pre-Ray Graves era was a 27-0 beating of Kentucky and Bryant in 1952. That win got Bob Woodruff and the Gators to the Gator Bowl, the first bowl game in school history. Woodruff took Florida to two bowls in 10 years but Florida football got its first real pulse under Graves from 1960-69. After nine years of Doug Dickey, Charley Pell, who played and coached for Bryant at Alabama and was an assistant at Kentucky under Charley Bradshaw, awoke the sleeping giant. From the foundation laid by Pell, Florida became the winningest program in college football from 1990-2009 (202-52-1, 8 SEC championships, 3 national championships).
What constitutes hard times for Florida in the years since the 2010 season (39-26) is better than any 5-year stretch at Kentucky since Bear left. From 2006-10 the Wildcats went 36-29.
Football has always been the second-class citizen at Kentucky, which has won eight national championships in basketball. Kentucky fans look at Florida, where basketball was a notorious second-class citizen until Billy Donovan came along and proved you could win national championships (2006-07) at a football first school, and ask why can’t we do just the opposite – win national championships in football at a school where basketball is king?
That Florida is rebuilding lends hope to the Wildcat faithful, who see Saturday night’s game as an opportunity to kill a couple of birds with a single stone – (1) break that 28-year losing streak to the Gators and (2) take the next step toward true football relevance. A win would give the Wildcats their first 3-0 start to a season since 2010 and their first 2-0 start in the SEC since 1977. Kentucky fans believe that if the Wildcats can simply get over the hump that is Florida they can take the next steps in building a championship program.
Kentucky will view this almost the equal of a championship game. If the Gators win, they not only keep their season unbeaten but make Kentucky fans go into their “wait until next year” mode.
That was Florida’s unofficial motto prior to 1990. Beating Kentucky Saturday is a step toward in the right direction toward preventing “wait until next year” becoming Florida’s motto once again.
Last Week: 9-2
FLORIDA 27, KENTUCKY 20: The Gators have to take the crowd out of this one and that means keeping Kentucky off the scoreboard early and forcing the Wildcats to play from behind. It’s going to come down to the play of the offensive line. If Florida controls the line of scrimmage the Gators win. The thought here is the O-line comes up big and the Gators win a tight one.
#2 ALABAMA 24, #15 OLE MISS 21: If this game were in Oxford, I’d pick Ole Miss by a couple of touchdowns. The fact that the game is in Tuscaloosa tells me Bama will win it. Ole Miss has a 1-35-1 record in the state of Alabama. It wouldn’t be a shock if Ole Miss wins, but history says go with the Tide.
#7 GEORGIA 28; SOUTH CAROLINA 12: South Carolina has won four of the last five against Georgia and it’s tempting to pick the Gamecocks to make it five out of six, but South Carolina’s offense has struggled too much and the defense is really vulnerable against the run. If South Carolina wins this one, Mark Richt will spend the next 12 months having to answer that perpetual question – Is Steve Spurrier permanently in his head?
#13 LSU 21, #18 AUBURN 14: LSU will give its national championship hopes a boost while Auburn’s will take a hit. The difference will be Leonard Fournette and Jeremy Johnson’s penchant for throwing the ball to the guys who wear different colored shirts than the ones he’s wearing. It is a day game, though, and the Tigers have never been as good in the daylight at Tiger Stadium as they are under the lights.
#17 TEXAS A&M 54, NEVADA 13: The Aggies are really good but the offense hasn’t exploded yet. Some think that’s by design, that Kevin Sumlin is keeping things under wraps for the moment and letting the defense take all the spotlight. Well, this is the game the defense will have to share because the Aggies are due to break out.
#22 MISSOURI 31, UCONN 10: It might take awhile for Mizzou’s offense to come around but the defense is already nasty so it won’t take a lot of points to win. If Maty Mauk struggles and freshman Drew Lock looks sharp we could see a change at QB very, very soon.
ARKANSAS 33, TEXAS TECH 28: Ground Hog has gone AWOL. It better show up this week. If the Hogs can’t run the ball and keep the defense off the field they’re going to lose their second straight game.
TENNESSEE 57, WESTERN CAROLINA 7: Sad faces in Knoxville become happy faces this week. The beatdown the Vols hand to Western Carolina will raise their spirits and make them think they can break the 10-game losing streak to Florida.
MISSISSIPPI STATE 49, NORTHWESTERN STATE 7: This is the perfect opportunity for Dan Mullen to get plenty of live reps for his inconsistent O-line, which needs to play better if the Bulldogs plan to have any kind of running game other than Dak Prescott this year.
VANDERBILT 35, AUSTIN PEAY 0: Austin Peay is really bad which is perfect for Vandy. The Dores are also really bad but a whole lot better than the visiting Govs. True story. They used to have an All-American basketball player named Fly Williams who averaged close to 40 a game. Their cheer: “The Fly is open; let’s go Peay (pronounced pee).”
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY
EXTINCT SPECIES LIST
1. Tim Beckman, Illinois: You can’t escape the past, much less the present. The AD was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt with the former Illinois players who outed Beckman for abuse. When the former Toledo players confirmed it he was a goner before the season even began.
ON LIFE SUPPORT
1. Mike London, Virginia (0-2): The Cadavers played Notre Dame close last week. This week it’s Boise State, an almost have to win game if London is to get any kind of breathing room.
2. Kyle Flood, Rutgers (1-1): Flood got the kiss of death vote of confidence from an athletic director (Julie Hermann) who many folks suspect was dropped on her head too many times as a child the day before the school prez suspended him four games for allegedly trying to get a professor to change a grade. This came after two weeks in which seven of Rutgers players were arrested. Flood might wish to view this as a sign from God that his days are numbered.
3. Trent Miles, Georgia State (1-1): Georgia State is high as a kite on a 1-game win streak (over New Mexico State of all people). Reality sets in this week when the Panthers travel to Oregon, which needs 80 or so points to erase the hurt of the loss to Michigan State.
4. Mike Leach, Washington State (1-1): The opening day loss to Portland State was a broadside to The Pirate’s ship. The bilge pumps got working last week when Wazzoo beat Rutgers keeping the ship afloat. Wyoming comes to Pullman this week so there’s a good chance Wazzoo is 2-1 so while the Good Ship Leach is listing, it hasn’t sunk yet.
5. Kevin Wilson, Indiana (2-0): The 2-0 start is simply a two-week reprieve. Saturday’s game with Western Kentucky begins the inevitable countdown until cleaning out the desk and taking all the photos off the wall day.
6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (1-1): Mac is a great guy but a classic example of The Peter Principle. He was doing just fine at San Jose State (10-2 in 2012) then he took the Colorado job and suddenly his star isn’t shining anymore. If he loses to Colorado State this week firing day will be sooner and not later.
7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State (1-1): This is Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear State as in every coach who comes to I-State thinks he can make the proverbial silk purse out of the sow’s ear. This week I-State travels to Toledo, which just beat the Arkansas Razorbacks on the road. Oink.
8. Darrell Hazell, Purdue (1-1): This is another example of the Peter Principle. Hazell was 11-3 at Kent State in 2012. He should have stayed there. He’s 5-21 at Purdon’t with loss #22 this weekend all but penciled in to Virginia Tech.
9. Paul Haynes, Kent State (1-1): This is the school that gave us Lou Holtz, Don James, Gary Pinkell and Nick. Whatever magic they shared it hasn’t been passed down to Haynes, who needs six wins to get a fourth year (7-18 record). He’s only got the personnel to get him three wins so he’s going to need a ton of luck to stick around.
ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST
1. Al Golden, Miami (2-0): The Himmicanes are 2-0, which is good because Al needs nine – count’em – wins this year to be gainfully employed next year in Coral Gables. Al doesn’t have Donna Shalala to make him untouchable anymore and the boosters can’t understand why he can’t recruit good players from Miami.
2. Norm Chow, Hawaii (1-1): The Rainbow Warriors should move to 2-1 this week against D1AA UC-Davis. Lose and it’s right back to On Life Support for Norm.
3. Willie Taggart, USF (1-1): For a half last week Taggart had folks actually believing he could coach. Then Florida State woke up from its coma and the bloodletting began. The Bulls are Maryland’s get well game this week.
4. Doug Martin, New Mexico State (0-2): Getting creamed in game one to Florida was expected. Losing at home to Georgia State in front of a near capacity crowd was not. Losing to UTEP this week won’t help the cause.
5. Paul Petrino, Idaho (0-2): Considering the combination of facilities (horrendous), pay (horrendous would be a step up), schedule (is there something worse than worse than horrendous) and the fact that a football player can be eaten by a bear on his way from practice to the dorm, Paul Petrino is doing a bang up job. If he loses to Wofford this week he will be On Life Support.
6. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (2-0): There is a really good chance the Red Raiders are going to lose their next three games (at Arkansas, #3 TCU, #5 Baylor). Kliff can always get a job as a male model if he can’t win seven games this year because anything less and he won’t be coaching Texas Tech.
VERY WEAK PULSE
1. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (0-2): Those Vandy people are too civilized to fire a coach after two ridiculously bad seasons. Aren’t they? Austin Peay is a get well game before nine straight very losable games.
2. George O’Leary, UCF (0-2): They tolerate George at UCF and as long as he wins 8-9 games a year he’s safe. He’s got enough talent to win eight of the last 10 but this 0-2 start has the buzzards starting to circle and folks in the UCF administration thinking this is the year George goes packing.
3. Curtis Johnson, Tulane (0-2): The rotten facilities excuse has come and gone now that the Greenies have a one-year-old stadium that still smells brand new. Johnson is in his fourth year and 12-27 with at least eight more losses all but penciled in on the schedule.
SAVED BY THE BUYOUT
1. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (2-0): The Hawkeyes are doomed for another 6-6 or 7-5 season but they would have to pay Captain Kirk $13.3 million to fire him.
2. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (2-0): He’s under contract until 2018 and to buy him out would cost the school almost $7 million. The Mounties are a 6-6 or 7-5 team this year.
3. Charlie Strong, Texas (1-1): Money usually isn’t a problem at Texas but they’re going to pay fired AD Steve Patterson a cool $10 mill NOT to work. To fire Charlie will cost $15 million. These guys have very good lawyers.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Given the importance of this game to Kentucky, do you believe Jim McElwain and the Florida staff will treat Saturday night’s game any differently than simply the next game on the schedule or will they stress this is like a bowl game for UK?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The California Honeydrops have recently released their latest CD, “A River’s Invitation,” which I highly recommend. This is one of the best rock and soul bands to come along in awhile. This is a live concert from February at an event in California called “Salmonfest.” Lead singer Lech Wierzynski is absolutely off the charts.