JOE COX: Bye Week Good Or Bad for Stoops' Wildcats? Can Kentucky Move Up in SEC Power Rankings?
By Joe Cox
The bye week for UK football has passed peacefully. In some recent seasons, I found myself anxiously awaiting not watching UK get beaten mercilessly on the bye week. But Mark Stoops said early last week that he’d have rather been playing this time around, and I have to agree. For the first time since at least 2009, and maybe earlier than that, this Kentucky football team gives fans something to hope for, something to build on, and makes those dreams of warm-weather bowl games in January start to emerge from hiding.
Saturday will find Kentucky in an unusual position. As I write, UK is a 14.5-point favorite over Vanderbilt. The last time UK was a 14.5-point favorite in an SEC game was 2010, when UK was favored by 15 over lame-duck Vandy coach Robbie Caldwell’s Commodores. UK won 38-20, en route to the last ‘Cat bowl appearance in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Make no mistake—this is as big of a game as UK will play all season. The ‘Cats’ current 17-game SEC losing streak ties their all-time record. Before UK can start thinking meaningfully about bowl games, it’s got to handle the weakest kid on the block, which once again is the Vanderbilt Commodores. It’s a young UK team, and they have a chance to send a message on Saturday afternoon—that this isn’t the UK football program of years past, but it’s a new team on a new day. History is written in the present, and Patrick Towles and company can write an important chapter on Saturday.
Since we don’t really have upsides and downsides from a bye week, here are a few things I’d like to see or that ‘Cat fans need to see on Saturday.
* The tight ends or running backs catching passes. Every year, we hear about a great UK tight end, and most years, they end up doing nothing. Through three games, the Wildcat TEs have three catches. That won’t cut it. And if they’re not going to step up, time to find Kemp, Heard, et al., out of the backfield and let them help the big-play guys like Timmons and Johnson.
* Another good game for Austin MacGinnis. The kid has shown the leg to hit two 50-yarders in a single season, which makes him one of only a handful of UK kickers to do so (the record is four 50-plus yarders by Doug Pelfrey in 1991). Now, he needs to have a week of making the shorter, easier kicks—cleanly, if possible.
* Quarterback rush from the front four. Za’Darius Smith stepped up in the Florida game. Would love to see Bud Dupree or Melvin Lewis or even Matt Elam join him this week.
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
What a wild and wooly week in the SEC. Let’s try to make sense out of it.
1. Alabama (4-0). They were sloppy and then threw for almost 500 yards and made Florida look stupid. It’s weird to see an Alabama team that it so obviously a work in progress, but they stay No. 1 until somebody beats them.
2. Texas A&M (4-0). We still don’t really know anything about them. When they play Alabama, we’re going to learn a lot about two teams. Man, Kenny Hill is fun to watch.
3. Auburn (3-0). Didn’t play very well in beating Kansas State. I don’t think they’ve got the horses to keep up with A&M, much less Alabama. They may not have the horses to keep up with Mississippi State or LSU either, but we’ll see.
4. Mississippi State (4-0). So much for my “They’d be good in the East” thing. They won in Baton Rouge, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. They’re good now. Dan Mullen will take another job next year, maybe in Gainesville.
5. Georgia (2-1). They played a terrible team and beat them badly. Playing in the SEC East, that’s probably how their season at large will go from here.
6. Ole Miss (3-0) On a bye this week. They are now where Mississippi State was for me. I know they’re a good team, but they have to show that they can do something in the juggernaut of the SEC West.
7. LSU (3-1). They had no QB. I did tell you that. That said, I liked the Harris kid they turned to… and who knows what ends up