Why the Long Face?

Had any sports writer in America told the UK faithful that after 6 games, the football team would sport 3 wins and 3 losses, the majority of the fanbase that supports the Wildcats would more than likely be happy.

However, despite the fact the 'Cats currently post a .500 record at mid-season, Kentucky football is still experiencing a negative perspective that the program is not heading in the right direction.

Why?

Most would point at UK's defense, which has been near the bottom of the NCAA in every category, save turnover margins. In short, the defensive unit that was expected to be much improved has been everything but.

Who's to blame is up to your own personal opinion. Some side with Archer, others side against Archer. Regardless after squandering over 550 yards of total offense to Central Michigan, the defense is definitely not giving anyone a reason to be optimistic in the near future.

Sadly, this unit has single handidly caused the Wildcat fanbase to look with utter disdain towards the program, instead of encouragement.

That can change in the second half of the year, where the Wildcats have 4 winnable games left on their schedule heading into this weekend's clash against LSU.

Outside of the massacre that will most likely be awaiting the Wildcats in Baton Rouge, La. on Saturday, is remaining games against Mississippi State, Louisiana-Monroe and Vanderbilt.

Two of the three games are in Commonwealth Stadium - the site of UK's three victories to date - and all three opponents will play Kentucky as underdogs.

With 6 victories an almost certainty, UK has a chance to finally revive the fanbase with its home matchup against Georgia. Unlike in most years where the 'Dawgs will be facing the 'Cats a week prior to their annual Cocktail party clash with the Gators, Georgia faces Kentucky a week after in Lexington.

Estimated game-time temperature should be between 20 and 25 degrees.

With Georgia's quarterback problems dismantling its hopes of a SEC Championship each passing week, Rich Brooks and his staff have another possible program changing victory opportunity at home.

Something Brooks and company were unable to do last week against South Carolina.

Would a win over the Bulldogs push the fanbase towards Brooks' side once again and rally around the best Wildcat football team - at least record wise - since the Dusty Bonner led Wildcats of 1999?

Who knows, what we do know about this group of kids is that next year's team will have absolutely no excuses. A boatload of talent returns to Lexington and should allow the Wildcats to be as many as three-deep at every major defensive and offensive spot on the football squad. That is a luxury that will be shared by only a handful of other SEC squads next season.

And considering the NFL draft plans to attract some of the more talented underclassman the conference has to offer, don't be surprised if Kentucky has a chance to break-through in 2007.

The question remains, will anyone care?

Reasons for Optimism

1. junior QB Andre Woodson
In a year marred with underachievers in big-games, Andre has been rather steady in each respective game from start to finish in 2006. He's overcome several obstacles in the turnover game and has become the Wildcats overwelming leader. He's had a great year statistically, but many Wildcat fans know, he still has a lot left in the tank.

Another year of progression and Andre will more than fulfill his great potential.

2. Wide Receivers
A group that was considered the weakest link has found some playmakers amongst themselves and several long considered underachievers have arrived to the forefront. Dicky Lyons is headed for big things in his future and with increased improvement, so should a host of freshmen that have seen time in 2006.

This is a young group, but one that should be darn good in 2007. If the Wildcats can keep the commitment of Jackson (Ga.) wide receiver John Keyes and enroll Lamarckus Boswell this spring, this forgotten group becomes dynamite for years to come.

3. Experience
All we ever talk about is how the UK football program has never experienced winning or success and therefore can't go over the hump. Often times, caught hoping to hang-on and not playing to win, the UK football program will finally experience success in 2006 and should be able to move that towards 2007.

As this writer has stated all along, 2006 was merely a stepping stone for bigger things to come. Rich Brooks has hinted at it from the beginning of SEC Media Days in 2005. If the staff and the players can limp along through without any unexpected losses due to academics or injuries, they should be flat out loaded in 2007.

Newsflash: they are.

Reasons to be Negative

1. Key win still not found
When Brooks arrived almost four years ago, he promised a key win over a big-time program that would help get his kids and his program a jump-start. Thus far, outside of a win over Ole Miss three weeks ago, the same victories have come from the same foes.

Kentucky has yet to cross that mountain and unlike in years past, have yet to come close or hold the lead against one of its favored opponents in the second half of any game. A great opportunity was thrown to the way-side this previous Saturday. How many opportunities will UK allow pass?

2. Defense
After praising his defense all summer and talking about an improved depth at all of his skill spots on defense, Mike Archer's unit has been a huge disappointment to date. Many fingers have pointed at the former Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach for his lack of aggressiveness at certain situations, but skill-wise, sadly UK still seems a step or two slower at times. Perhaps another good recruiting class will help, but if the Wildcats defensive coordinator does not find immediate help in the secondary, it could be another long year for the Wildcats against the pass.

3. Offensive Line
Often times praised as much as the defense this past spring, the offensive line has been extremely disappointing at times this season, despite holding a great deal of experience. The Wildcats endured a great blow in pre-season, when it lost Aaron Miller to academics, but a group that had some success playing some young guys in 2005, has seen little dividends from its gamble of last year.

To make matters worse, UK gets hurt more by graduation on this unit, than any other place on the football team. The Wildcats need junior college help and in a hurry. As many cat fans have noted, that's not necessarily a hidden treasure chest for the program in the past, as UK has experienced some of its biggest busts in the junior college casino.

Will its luck change in a critical area in 2007?

Overall, the program still is heading into the right direction if it heads to a bowl game.

Despite what many fans may think.


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