So what's a summer boxing match without the talk pre-season expectations and predictions?
From The Sporting News to Athlon to CollegeFootballNews.com, it's not hard to find where the Wildcats of Kentucky are positioned this June and July in the annual rags that cloud the front portion of the magazine display.
Yep, for yet another glorious summer, the Football Cats of Kentucky are seated in the depths of Southeastern Conference purgatory; A land of vast underachievers and hopeful alumni. Many have arrived; but so few have had the courage to leave.
In an effort to save you money and time; let me go ahead and let you know before hand before purchasing any 12 buck yearbook on UK Football:
Anything better then 3-8 or 4-7 is over-achieving.
That's right. For a team that has finished with a winning record in just 3 of its past 6 years and 1 in its last 4, UK will be very lucky to win 3 or 4 games this year by many prognostications. But as we have seen all too many times in year's past, UK has never fully lived up to any expectations; good or bad.
There was '02; when the Cats arrived in Papa Johns' Stadium engulfed in Louisville's pre-season hype, only to leave with a miraculous victory. That team was 2-9 the previous year and had less talent then any three teams before them. Then there was 2000, when the Cats arrived in Papa Johns, a tremendously heavy favorite, only to carry on the tradition of the late-game collapse, losing in overtime, after a botched quarterback sneak led to Hal Mumme's famous kicking decision.
And then of course, '03, when the Cats were a suppose favorite over a Cardinal team that was playing their first game since the departure of John L. Smith and Dave Ragone.
This year could carry a similar tune. Among the gloomy predictions and threats of sabotage in Lexington, is a tiny glimmer of hope. His name is Shane Boyd and even though many claim that he played for UofL this past season, he holds the keys to Kentucky jumping over that extremely large hump that seemingly will never get behind them.
Shane Boyd is Shane Boyd.
He plays with heart, grit, and desire. He throws a fantastic football, has uncanny athleticism, and makes smart decisions.
Unfortunately, those characteristics have not extended into the stadium setting.
If it does in 2004, Kentucky will have a good team -- with a defense to keep them competitive from start to finish.
If the practice field continues to be the place where Boyd excels, then the Wildcats will continue to struggle to stay within touchdowns of some of the worst teams on their schedule. The ball rests in the hands of #7, both for our season, and for our annual match up with Louisville.
Defensively, the Cats have got the numbers to match up with anyone in the SEC and the country for that matter. Very quietly, Mike Archer's 3-4 schemes have finally got the personnel to be successful. There's still a lack of overall speed compared to other SEC teams, and there's still a problem against the run, but there's enough experience and depth to expect a strong season from the unit. The starting eleven should be able to hang around with anyone in the league, while the depth behind it, has improved leaps and bounds. No doubt about it, if the offense gives the defense a chance to keep the Cats' in games next season, UK will have plenty of opportunities at an upset, both against Louisville in the opener and down the road.
The key to the game in my opinion won't be whether or not the defense can stop Louisville's high powered offense, but field position and time of possession. If UK can make Louisville go 75-80 yards every time they touch the pigskin, UK can stay in this football game for four quarters. If UK makes stupid mistakes and turns the ball over early and often, UofL will score…early and often. No matter how good your defense is, you can't expect them to be on the football field for more then 60% of the game and win.
Even the '85 Bears needed some rest.
That leads us to what should be the biggest match up of the game; UK's running game versus Louisville's defensive front.
Plain and simple, if UK can not move the ball effectively and eat up some time on the clock, UK will not last three quarters against an experienced unit like Louisville. If UK can effectively get 4-5 yards on first down and take the pressure off Boyd early and get him some confidence, there is no telling what could happen. Like we have seen in year's past with this series; expect the un-expected.
UK and myself sure hope that trend continues.