Longtime Frankfort State Journal sportswriter Brian Rickerd, whose perspective on University of Kentucky football is informed by decades of analysis and observation, finds the silver lining in the Wildcats’ TaxSlayer Bowl thumping by Georgia Tech last Saturday.
In a nutshell, UK football is relevant again, Rickerd opines.
The same can be said of football generally in the commonwealth, which sent three teams – UK, Louisville and Western Kentucky – to bowl games last month and a fourth – Frankfort’s own Kentucky State University – to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletics Association championship game in Montgomery, Ala., in November.
That only Western – a 51-31 winner over Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl – won its postseason game does not diminish the resurgence of college football in hoops-crazed Kentucky.
Mark Stoops, after an 0-2 start this fall that had fans and pundits questioning his job security, rallied UK to a winning record, a brief flirtation with a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game, and the program’s first bowl game since 2010.
Louisville spent much of the season in the national championship conversation, led by sensational sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson, who won the school’s first Heisman Trophy, given to the best player in all of college football.
WKU just keeps rolling along, despite losing its coach every few years. Willie Taggart got the Hilltoppers going with back-to-back bowls in 2011 and 2012, laying the foundation for Bobby Petrino in 2013 and Jeff Brohm, who this fall guided the program to its second straight season of 10-plus wins and second straight Conference USA championship. Brohm, like prior WKU coaches who were successful, is off to a bigger school, but new coach Mike Sanford looks to have the pedigree to continue the Hilltoppers’ unprecedented run.
Right here at home, veteran coach John L. Smith is doing the unthinkable: making K-State competitive again on the gridiron. Smith, at age 68, won’t coach forever, but neither is he in the market for another job. For as long as he chooses to coach, he will lay the foundation for sustained success for the Thorobreds.
— The State Journal, Frankfort