As the 2019 Thanksgiving season closes and the Christmas season hits full stride (DEFCON 5 for most), let’s take a minute to identify some really good things to be thankful for when considering the season to date for the Kentucky Wildcats football team.
To do this, let’s have a little fun with it. Borrowing the now-famous Top 10 list from late-night legend David Letterman, let’s do our own Top 10 Reasons Kentucky Football Fans Should Be Thankful. C’mon, it’s fun for the whole family.
Let’s begin the list.
Number 10. At least we aren’t Missouri or Vanderbilt, the Cats are going postseason bowling for the fourth year in a row.
Number 9. We aren’t replacing our coach, unlike Missouri and Arkansas, and possibly South Carolina, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Auburn (if coach Gus Malzhan bolts for Arkansas.)
Number 8. The Cats have won seven games with their best receiver turning into a quarterback on the fly and instituting a power running game that has been unstoppable for the last five weeks.
Number 7. Our coach was a possible candidate for one of the old-money big-time college programs (Florida State) and decided to stay in Lexington. What?
Number 6. The Cats have not one, not two, but three SEC-legitimate running backs who are capable of big plays and production. And that’s not counting that receiver turned quarterback. More on him later.
Number 5. An offensive line made up of five Big Blue road graders who grind down defenses like a Joy miner deep in a mine and two tight ends who set edges for the read-option game as well, allowing the earlier mentioned running backs ample opportunities to scamper all over the field.
Number 4. A defensive staff and coordinator who can rebuild a defense with key losses upfront, lost the national defensive player of the year and replaced the entire secondary to become a top-25 defense nationally.
Number 3. An offensive staff and coordinator who lost their top three quarterbacks during the season and the program’s all-time leading rusher to the NFL, only to take what they had and build one of the SEC’s (and the country’s) best rushing offenses using their best athlete as their signal-caller.
Number 2. Lynn Bowden Jr. Kentucky football legend. End of discussion.
And Number 1. Coach Mark Stoops. The man has elevated the program to heights few seen coming seven years ago. Stoops and his staff have always been solid coaches in Lexington, but the job they have done this year has been nothing short of amazing. There are not many coaches out there who could take the cards Stoops was dealt and win a couple of games, let alone seven.
So, there really is a lot for a Kentucky football fan to be thankful for this holiday season. Now BBN waits for the invitation to a bowl game. Where do you think the Cats are heading?
Speaking of bowl games, let’s examine some possibilities for Kentucky.
More than likely the Cats will fall in the SEC’s group of six bowls. The bowls in this group include (courtesy of the SEC media office):
--Outback Bowl in Tampa (vs . Big Ten)
--Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville (vs . ACC/ Big Ten)
--TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville (vs . ACC/Big Ten)
--AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis (vs . Big 12)
--Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl in Houston (vs . Big 12)
--Belk Bowl in Charlotte (vs . ACC).
In consultation with SEC member institutions, as well as these six bowls, the conference will make the assignments for the bowl games in the pool system.
The SEC also has a relationship with both the Birmingham Bowl (vs . American) and the Walk-On's Independence Bowl in Shreveport (vs . ACC). The Birmingham Bowl will have the first selection of available teams following the pool of six bowls . The Independence Bowl will have the next selection of available teams following the Birmingham Bowl.
The possible bowl shakedown probably looks like the following:
The SEC champion (LSU or Georgia) will be in the college football playoff. The SEC runner-up will probably be in the playoff as well.
--Auburn to the Sugar Bowl.
--Alabama to the Orange Bowl.
--Florida to the Citrus Bowl.
--Tennessee to the Outback Bowl.
--Texas A&M to the Gator Bowl.
The next selection is the Music City Bowl. The probable two top choices left are Mississippi State and Kentucky. While the Bulldogs defeated the Cats earlier in the season, I think given the rabid fan base the Cats have and their willingness to travel and scoop up tickets in Nashville for any UK game, plus the Cats have more season wins than State does, the Music City Bowl committee will select UK to play in Nashville on December 30.
And finnally, let’s do a little more predicting and talk about the high school season winding up in the Bluegrass state and pick the six state champions that will be crowned on the turf at Kroger Field.
Class A: Pikeville over Paintsville. I love two mountain rivals settling it all in the finals. Pikeville’s speed will be the difference.
Class 2A: Mayfield over Somerset. The Cardinals are no stranger to the championship game, so I’m taking them over the Briar Jumpers in an instant classic.
Class 3A: Bell County over Belfry. In the matchup of mountain powers, both have the ability to raise the hardware in the Big Supermarket. The Bobcats have been perfect and dominant all season. I think they finish that way.
Class 4A: Boyle County over Johnson Central. The Rebels may be the most complete team in Kentucky with the ability to run or pass and dominate on defense. The Golden Eagles have been just as powerful. In what may be the best of the state final games, I’ll take Boyle in a nailbiter.
Class 5A: Frederick Douglass over Covington Catholic. Douglass has been open only three years, but the Broncos are undefeated and have nine shutouts this year. The Colonels will scrap, but the Broncos are just too much in the end.
Class 6A: Trinity over Male. Both the Shamrocks and the Bulldogs are big-time Kentucky programs with tons of gold between them. I’ll take Trinity in a close one as well.
Shane Shackleford is a Kentucky regional sports columnist. You can follow him at KySportsStyle.com Magazine, A Sea of Blue, and local media outlets.