Dreaming in Blue and White

Drew Barker hands off to RB Benny Snell. (Photo by Victoria Graff).

Okay, Cats fans. You can breathe. Lynn Bowden is at practice.

Big Blue Nation is used to salivating over John Calipari’s freshman recruits. But this high-schooler from Ohio has generated more pre-career excitement than any Kentucky football recruit since, at least in my time here, Patrick Towles.

Bowden’s press clippings insist he can be a great kick returner, a great receiver (especially after the catch) and a great Wildcat back (I mean the formation, not the team he’s on – although both, really).

It seems all he has to do is strap on his pads and learn a few basic formations and Kentucky will be good to go. And as a kick returner, he doesn’t even have to learn formations. He just has to learn what colors the opponent wears and which way the goal line is.

I’m still trying to figure out the arcane NCAA rules about when players are allowed to put on shoulder pads. The NCAA is so protective of players’ well-being, isn’t it? But, however you look at it, Bowden is behind the curve. He has missed weeks of conditioning, reading the playbooks, being on the field with his 2017 teammates and getting to know the other pass-catchers and whichever quarterback will be throwing to him this fall.

And also, however you look at it, Mark Stoops is a conservative guy. He’s not going to throw Bowden to the wolves, even if it’s the wolves that will need protecting. Or at least that’s the stance he’s going to take publicly until Bowden convinces him otherwise.

But, if Bowden is the player we’re led to believe he is, Stoops and Eddie Gran must be eager to get him into the offense. And if he is that player, the expectations for this team improve exponentially. If he’s not that player – well, we’ve been there before.

The expectations have already been sky-high. Or at least as sky-high as it gets at Kentucky. This is not Alabama or Michigan, where the sky is perfection and the grasp often exceeds the reach.

At Kentucky, the sky is one additional win over last season, one bowl win, one more Louisville win or, finally, a Florida win. Measurable. Achievable.

Maybe something to do, a game to play, on January 1, 2018. That would be nice.

Getting ahead of ourselves? Kentucky football fans are never permitted to get ahead of themselves. UK basketball fans can talk prematurely about undefeated seasons and Final Four expectations, but the conversation is much different in the fall.

For Stoops, a competitive SEC East ranking is the Holy Grail. Calipari views the SEC season as a tuneup.

However, this year – unlike so many recent years – UK football fans are given the chance to dream. The SEC East is definitely in the sightlines. Not for this team, the “satisfaction” of beating Vanderbilt. This year, this team has its sights set on Gators and Bulldogs and Vols, oh my!

But wait! It was just about a year ago, amid similar expectations, that the Wildcats blew an 18-point halftime lead against Southern Mississippi (thirty-five first-half points is not a lead, it’s a burial – or it should be anyway) followed by the Saturday afternoon primetime TV game against Florida. The Gators led by 24 at halftime. The Gators do not give up big halftime leads to Kentucky. Time to throw dirt on this bunch. We were all thinking it.

I mention those first two weeks of last season because I think Big Blue Nation too often wants to forget them or use them as object lessons. But games like that are not object lessons. They’re football games. They really happened.

Kentucky fans want to place a stencil over last season, covering up what they want to forget. A stencil that will highlight the 7-3 finish, the Louisville win, the four SEC victories, the bowl invitation; but cover up the failure to finish against Georgia and Tennessee, and the TaxSlayer loss to Georgia Tech.

A stencil that highlights the individual performances by Benny Snell, Jordan Jones, Denzil Ware, Mike Edwards and Austin MacGinnis; the kickoff and punt coverage and the entire offensive line, but covers up the defensive line’s failures to pressure any quarterbacks or to stop enough third-and-short runs up the middle, the offense’s propensity for turnovers and a simply unacceptable punting game.

My point is that everyone’s football season always looks good in August. Lynn Bowden in UK blue and white looks good. Benny Snell back in blue looks really good. But don’t cover up last season too quickly. Let the Cats do that on the field. VT