Kentucky football has not been to a bowl game since 2010 and coach Mark Stoops, despite increasing his team’s prominence with his recruiting prowess, has not gotten many results on the field.
In three years, Stoops has coached Kentucky to a 12-24 overall record, with back-to-back five-win seasons. The Wildcats could be knocking on the door of making a bowl game this year, but no one is confusing them for a contender in the always-difficult SEC. The odds are always long for Kentucky.
But every once in a while, they put together a strong team. And ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit believes this year is that year for the Wildcats.
Herbstreit, at a fundraising event in Louisville, Ky., said he expects more out of Kentucky this year.
“I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t have a breakthrough year this year,” Herbstreit said during the Kickoff Luncheon at the Galt House to benefit the 21st Century Parks and the Parklands of Floyds Fork as reported by Steve Jones of the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Now a breakthrough year for Kentucky isn’t (the same as) a breakthrough year for Florida or Georgia. A breakthrough year for Kentucky — if they were to get to a bowl game and get to seven or eight wins — that would be monumental.”
That caveat is important. Herbstreit is merely saying Kentucky takes that next step and reaches a bowl game this year.
Kentucky returns quarterback Patrick Towles, so there will be some stability under center (UK’s offense, though, had its struggles last year). The defense had its issues too, and loses linebacker Josh Forrest and defensive tackle Cory Johnson, their two best playmakers. It is hard to see exactly where the improvements will come.
Even worse for Kentucky, its crossover games with the SEC West are an away game against Alabama and a home game against Mississippi State. That does not necessarily suggest the Wildcats are going to be able to sneak in an extra win or too.
Perhaps development and buy-in to Stoops will be enough for this kind of improvement. The Wildcats’ non-conference schedule certainly should give a solid base — Southern Miss, New Mexico State, Austin Peay and Louisville. Measuring a “breakthrough” may simply be seeing Stoops’ team reach its first bowl game.