SEC MEDIA DAYS: Balancing Act

HOOVER, Ala. - The overwhelmingly positive vibe surrounding the Kentucky program since Mark Stoops' arrival this winter is about to encounter the stark reality of the Wildcats facing perhaps the nation's toughest schedule this fall. The new UK boss admits he's not completely sure how to approach that balancing act.

HOOVER, Ala. – The overwhelmingly positive vibe surrounding the Kentucky football program since Mark Stoops' arrival this winter is about to encounter the stark reality of the Wildcats competing against perhaps the nation's toughest schedule this fall.

The new UK boss admits he's not completely sure how to approach that balancing act.

"It's really, to be honest with you, an uncomfortable situation for me because it's not my style really to try to temper those expectations," Stoops said Wednesday during his first visit to SEC Media Days. "I think the educated fan knows where we're at as a program, knows we have a lot of work to do. But the flip side of that is I want the excitement. I want them there. I want them to support our players that we have on our team right now. I want them at all of our home games.

"We plan on going out and competing each and every week. We understand the challenges are there."

They are daunting.

Coming off a 2-10 season in 2012, the Wildcats are not afforded the luxury of NFL teams who face a more manageable schedule based on their previous year's results. It's right back in the frying pan when you play in the SEC.

Not only does UK face defending national champion Alabama and SEC East contenders Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, but the Cats will also play Bobby Petrino-led Western Kentucky in the season opener and BCS contender Louisville in Week 3.

Kentucky's strong showing on the recruiting trail since Stoops arrived in Lexington has elevated fan excitement to unprecedented levels. Almost 50,000 fans filled Commonwealth Stadium for the Wildcats' Blue-White Spring Game, one of the biggest turnouts in the country.

By contrast, UK's final SEC home game of a disastrous 2012 campaign, a 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt, drew what many estimated to be approximately 18,000.

"I'm glad the fans are excited, and I'm glad they're showing up in large numbers," Stoops said. "… People are excited and anticipating a good year because we certainly are. We're not going out there to put all this hard work in to not compete and not try to win games."

Asked how he expects the SEC race to shake down this season, Stoops said: "Shoot, we're just worried about ourselves, to be honest with you. We have so much work to do. All the teams in this league are good. We all know that. We talk about that. Top to bottom, there's no break. It's hard for me, first-year guy in this league, to predict who the top guys are going to be."

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for daily newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988. He began covering the Wildcats FOX Sports in 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, Drummond resides in Lexington.
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