There is certainly a buzz amongst the fanbase about the upcoming Kentucky football season. Spurred on by the great (for Kentucky) recruiting class of last year, fans truly believe that there is about to be upward movement and, for the first time in recent memory, there is a chance that the program will turn around. Much of this optimism is understandable. The Kentucky team is deeper than it has been in recent memory, the players are motivated and unified and the schedule favors the team in ways that it did not last year. Thus improvement is bound to take place, correct?
Well maybe. In one sense, I think it is hard to dispute that this Kentucky team will be better where some would say it matters most, in the win column. But will the team be better? A closer look at the schedule suggest that more than just aggregate wins needs to be considered before judging the success. Kentucky’s schedule is dramatically different than it was last year, and because of that, evaluation of the team needs to be tweaked a bit. Here’s why.
Kentucky is likely to add two total wins simply by changes in scheduling. Whereas the past few years have seen non-conference games with Louisville, Indiana and a terrible team, this year the schedule sees Louisville and three mediocre to bad teams. Because Louisville is likely unbeatable, what this means is that Kentucky has traded Indiana, a team on the Cats level and one that could be a win or loss each year, for two games that they are supposed to win. Thus whereas in year’s past a normal Kentucky team would either be 2-1 or 1-2 in the nonconference, this year a normal or even below normal team will be 3-1.
Thus last year Kentucky was 1-2 in the non-conference. This year, if they are No Better, they will be 3-1. That is a huge difference.
Now lets go to the SEC part of the schedule. In Rich Brooks’s three years at Kentucky, he has only beaten two SEC teams, Vanderbilt and Mississippi St. Fortunately for the Cats, both teams are on the schedule every year and Kentucky defeated both teams last year.
Thus if Kentucky is No Better than they were last year, they will once again beat Vanderbilt and Mississippi St. Thus for the six non-conference games plus the two regular SEC wins, the Cats will be 5-1.
What does this mean? A Kentucky team that performs not better, but the SAME as the average of the Rich Brooks era gets five wins. That is an important point. A Kentucky team that wins only five games is actually showing no improvement from years past, but is simply treading water. Five wins seems like more than three….and it is, but the improvement will not come by on the field upward mobility, but scheduling quirks.
That means that in the remaining six games (South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss), the Cats must win ONE of these games to show any improvement whatsoever. A case can even be made that an Ole Miss win is not that impressive (especially since the game is at home), but I wont make that case. A win over any of these teams (and Ole Miss is the likely pick) means six victories, a bowl bid and a showing of improvement by the program.
So how do we evaluate the coaching staff at the end of the year? To me the criteria is simple…..7 wins or more and the staff has done an AMAZING job and improvement is evident across the board. 6 wins (which might have equated to only four wins under the old schedule format) and improvement has been reached, but it is only slight. Five wins and the team has made no steps forward. Four or less and the team has actually regressed.
It is odd to look at a program that will surely win more games and say that it might have held steady or even regressed. But with changes in scheduling and the addition of a 12th game, that is the case. Ultimately for Brooks, six is the magic number. Hit it and the case is made that the team is headed in the right direction. Miss it, and I would be surprised if he is here next year.