LEXINGTON, Ky. – As the calendar turns to November and Kentucky football remains in the SEC East championship hunt, the possibility of a glorious-but-gut-wrenching decision for Wildcats fans (and their athletic director) looms: What if, on Dec. 3, the second-ranked men’s basketball team is hosting 16th-ranked UCLA and the football team is in Atlanta playing for a conference championship?
Both would be firsts. The Bruins have never come to Rupp Arena and the Wildcats have never played in the SEC football championship game. Both will be televised on CBS – the basketball game at 12:30 p.m. and the football game at 4. But in this perfect-storm scenario, where would Kentucky fans (and their AD) go?
“I have no idea. I think I know,” said a smiling Barnhart during an exclusive interview with SEC Country on Wednesday. “That’s a quick flight. Haven’t looked that far ahead, so in the adage of one week at a time, let’s play Georgia. Let’s do that. (But) it would be a wonderful problem to have.”
If the Wildcats beat the Bulldogs and Florida loses at Arkansas on Saturday, Kentucky football will be tied for first place in the East with just one league game – at Tennessee – left to play. The Gators must drop two SEC games (home against South Carolina, at LSU are their last two) and the Cats must win out.
“There’s so much that has to happen,” Barnhart said, “not the least of which is we’ve got to beat two really good opponents and do something at Tennessee that we haven’t done in decades.”
In other words, Kentucky reaching Atlanta is still a long shot. But the Wildcats haven’t even gotten to dream about such possibilities this late in the season in a long, long time.
“It’s nice to be in November and having those conversations. The last time we were in the conversation would’ve been the year (2007) we beat LSU and hosted Florida for College GameDay,” Barnhart said. “But that was early, mid-October, and at the end of the (day), it was sort of over. At that point in time, we were done.
“Being in November is a little different. Now you start saying, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ It begins to crystalize in front of you and you’re saying, ‘OK, can we be in the conversation one more week?’ You know, that’s what we want: be in the conversation next week. If we win this week, we’re still in it.”
Which brings us back to the question: What will Wildcats fans (and their AD) do if basketball is hosting UCLA and football is playing in Atlanta on Dec. 3?
“The history of what it would mean to our program to be in Atlanta would be remarkably special,” Barnhart said. In making plans to watch or attend the events of that dream day for Kentucky, “I think you’d have to take that into every account.”