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Kentucky in rare company with current success in football and basketball

Article written by:On3 imageTyler Thompson


Photo by Dr. Michael Huang | Kentucky Sports Radio

For the first time in school history, Kentucky Football will enter the season ranked in both the AP and Coaches Polls. After an impressive exhibition tour in the Bahamas, the Kentucky Basketball team will surely be a preseason top-five, if not top-three squad. Instead of arguing over which sport is more important, football or basketball, it’s time to celebrate Kentucky’s success in both because if you look around college athletics right now, it’s kind of rare.

Kentucky is No. 20 in the Preseason AP Poll, which began in 1950. This is only the fifth time in program history the Cats have made the Preseason AP Top 25 and the first since 1978. Kentucky was also ranked in the 1950 (No. 13), 1951 (No. 6), 1957 (No. 20), and 1978 (No. 15) preseason polls. The Cats are No. 21 in the Preseason Coaches Top 25, their first ever preseason appearance in the 30-year-old poll.

The preseason AP and Coaches college basketball polls won’t come out until October. There are countless “way too early” preseason rankings out there, the most popular being Jeff Borzello’s for ESPN. Borzello’s last update came out at the end of July. He ranks Kentucky No. 4 heading into the 2022-23 season.

In the interest of championing an “Everything School,” I compared the Football AP and Coaches Preseason Top Polls with ESPN’s Basketball “Way Too Early” Top 25. Right now, Kentucky is one of six schools with teams on all three.

Football – AP Preseason Top 25Football – Coaches Preseason Top 25Basketball – ESPN Way Too Early Top 25

Of that group, you could argue that only Alabama Football, Kentucky Basketball, and maybe Houston and Arkansas Basketball have legit national championship potential. Even so, the Kentucky Football team is eyeing Atlanta. If the football Cats make the SEC Championship and the basketball Cats go to the Final Four, it will be one of the most impressive one-two punches in college sports.

History of Kentucky Football and Basketball’s overlapping success

When was the last time Kentucky Football and Basketball were this good at the same time? Last year’s football team spent eight weeks in the AP Top 25, peaking at No. 11 in October and going to the Citrus Bowl. Meanwhile, the basketball team spent all of last season in the Top 25 and peaked at No. 4 in February (we won’t talk about the NCAA Tournament). In 2018, the football Cats peaked at No. 13 in the AP Poll in early October and put a bow on a historic ten-win season with a Citrus Bowl victory. On the basketball front, the 2018-19 Tyler Herro/Keldon Johnson squad was ranked in the top ten for most of the year before losing to Auburn in the Elite Eight.

The football team saw success under Rich Brooks in 2007, spending eight weeks in the AP Top 25 and beating Florida State in the Music City Bowl. Although the basketball team wasn’t horrible in Billy Gillispie’s first season, they were only ranked once, in the preseason poll, and finished 18-13.

A relaxed Couch in the middle of a 68-34 win over Louisville in 1998 (Andy Lyons | Getty Images)

The 1998 football team starring Tim Couch was ranked in the Coaches Poll a few times but never the AP Poll. That said, excitement for the program was high and the Cats made it to the Outback Bowl, their first postseason appearance in five years. In Tubby Smith’s second year, the 1998-99 basketball team followed up a national championship with a 28-9 record and an Elite Eight appearance.

From there, you have to go back to 1978 to find a time when the football and basketball Cats shared success. In 1978, the football team entered the season ranked No. 15, but only spent one more week in the Top 25. Fresh off a national championship, the 1978-79 Kentucky Basketball team was ranked for eight weeks and finished 19-12. The 1977-78 Kentucky Basketball team obviously won the title, and in the months preceding it, Fran Curci’s squad went 10-1 and rose as high as No. 6 in the AP rankings. Blanton Collier’s 1957 Kentucky Football team was ranked No. 20 in the preseason but fell out after a season-opening loss to Georgia Tech. His 1954 and 1955 squads were ranked for a handful of weeks.

Bear Bryant’s 1950 and 1951 teams were both ranked in the preseason and throughout their campaigns, with the 1950 team finishing the season at No. 7 in the AP Poll. On the basketball side, Adolph Rupp’s 1950-51 squad won the national championship. In 1949, Bryant’s squad spent nine weeks in the Top 25. Coming off the 1948-49 national championship, Rupp’s ’49-’50 Cats finished the season ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll and won the SEC regular season and tournament championships.

It really does always come back to Bear and Rupp, doesn’t it?

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