Expectations And UK Football: A Look At The Last Decade

08/07/2012 01:51 PM

The one thing about UK football is it can solicit a dizzying variety of theories and opinions. As the UK football beat writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader from 2000-2010, I decided to think back and evaluate how often Kentucky football reached, exceeded or failed to meet expectations the past 12 seasons. Granted, this is one man’s objective opinion. Feel free to chime in with your own take in the comments section below.

Here we go:

2000

Hal Mumme had everyone on board at this point. Tim Couch and Craig Yeast had left the Air Raid attack, but Mumme still guided the Cats to the Music City Bowl. I thought for sure Hal was headed for three bowl bids in a row, but everything blew up in the NCAA scandal and the Cats ended up tanking.

VERDICT: 2-9, FAILED TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

2001

This team wasn’t lacking talent, as it featured five players (Dennis Johnson, Dewayne Robertson, Artose Pinner, Derek Abney and Sweet Pea Burns) that would eventually get drafted. But with the bitter aftertaste of the NCAA scandal still fresh, I wasn’t expecting much. I did expect them to win more than two games, though. A flat 26-15 loss at Indiana in the season finale had first-year coach Guy Morriss on the hot seat.

VERDICT: 2-9, FAILED TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

2002

When August rolled around, fans were more interested in the potential search for Guy Morriss’ replacement than they were in the team’s fortunes. But the tide turned for Morriss and the Cats with a stunning 22-17 road win over a Louisville team that had generated some talk of going unbeaten in the preseason. Morriss rode that wave to a 7-5 season, and the Cats would have had eight wins had they not given one away to LSU in the “Bluegrass Miracle” game. Unfortunately they were ineligible for a bowl due to NCAA sanctions.

VERDICT: 7-5, EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS

2003

Morriss bolted for Baylor in the offseason, and Mitch Barnhart turned the program over to Rich Brooks. No one knew quite what to make of Brooks at the time, but with a decent set of skill players led by Jared Lorenzen and Derek Abney, most people thought the Cats would squeeze into a bowl. But the players had trouble adjusting to offensive coordinator Ron Hudson’s scheme and finished season with four straight losses.

VERDICT: 4-8, FAILED TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

2004 & 2005

This is when the NCAA probation and scholarship reductions really started to kick in. Things hit rock bottom with a loss to Ohio in 2004, and things didn’t get much better in 2005. While the expectations were extremely low, it’s a hard to give satisfactory marks to five wins in two years. Most people were hoping that Barnhart would show Brooks the door.

VERDICT: 2-9 in 2004, 3-8 in 2005; FAILED TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

2006

Just like 2002, it seemed like only a matter of time before Barnhart had to conduct another search. And just like 2002, the presumed lame duck coach threw everyone a curve. Things looked bleak for Brooks after a season-opening 59-28 bludgeoning at the hands of Louisville and a 49-0 loss at LSU in October. The Cats would then use an open date to resurrect themselves, winning a close one at Mississippi State followed by a 24-20 win over Georgia. The Cats ended a six-year bowl drought by whipping Clemson in the Music City.

VERDICT: 8-5, EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS

2007

This was probably the best UK team since the ’84 squad went 9-3 and won the Hall of Fame Bowl. Andre Woodson, Keenan Burton, Jacob Tamme, Stevie Johnson and Rafael Little on offense; Wesley Woodyard, Myron Pryor, Corey Peters, Jeremy Jarmon and Trevard Lindley on defense. They beat UofL for the first time since 2002, and knocked off No. 1 and eventual national champ LSU.

There could have been so much more, though, as this team was probably good enough to contend for the SEC East crown. Beaten up after a tough back-to-back with LSU and Florida, the Cats stumbled against a Mississippi State team they should have beaten, and tricked off yet another one to Tennessee, this one a four-OT heartbreak.

Again, a very good UK team with a respectable won-loss record, but this team should have won 10 games.

VERDICT: 8-5, FAILED TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

2008

Brooks faced heavy personnel losses going into the season, but sat at 6-3 before a three-game losing streak to Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. They did clinch a winning season with a Liberty Bowl win over East Carolina. Not a memorable year by any means, but when you consider Brooks lost Woodson, Burton, Tamme, Woodyard, Little and Johnson, and then had to kick his projected starting quarterback (Curtis Pulley) off the team in the preseason, getting back to a bowl was an accomplishment.

VERDICT: 7-6, MET EXPECTATIONS

2009

After three years of the Music City and Liberty Bowls, UK football fans were ready to take the next step. Mike Hartline held off freshman Morgan Newton for the starting quarterback job but then suffered a season-ending knee injury in a close loss at South Carolina. The Cats picked up soild road wins at Auburn and Georgia, but lost another overtime game to Tennessee. Perhaps unmotivated by a third Music City Bowl trip in four years, UK ended its season with a 21-13 loss to Clemson.

VERDICT: 7-6, FAILED TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

2010

The Cats appeared loaded on offense with Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline and Derrick Locke, and the team did have its moments. They beat Louisville for the fourth straight year and knocked off Steve Spurrier for the first time ever. But Joker Phillips’ first season as head coach ended in disappointing fashion with listless performances at Tennessee and in the BBVA Bowl game against Pittsburgh.

VERDICT: 6-7, FAILED TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

2011

While going to lower-tier bowls had started to get old with most UK fans by this point, they still expected to get bowl-eligible. Not only did the Cats miss out on a bowl, they looked flat-out awful at times, starting with the season opener vs. Western Kentucky and continuing through an embarrassing 30-point loss at Vandy. The Cats did end ‘The Streak’ against Tennessee, but even that failed to put a positive spin on the 2011 season.

VERDICT: 5-7, FAILED TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

My final scorecard: In the past 12 seasons, UK football has failed to meet expectations nine times, exceeded expectations twice, and met expectations once. Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? What are your expectations for this year?

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