UK football expecting a bowl game in 2015


UK head coach Mark Stoops directs a player during the first half of the UK football game against Florida at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, September 28, 2013. Photo by Eleanor Hasken

By Derek Terry

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It’s Mark Stoops third season in Lexington, but the first where results are expected out of the UK football program.

After inheriting a program that had fallen on hard times under the leadership of former head coach Joker Phillips, Stoops and his staff have spent the last two seasons building a roster they hope can compete week in and week out in the Southeastern Conference.

Six wins and a bowl games are a realistic next step for the Cats in 2015. An influx of talent — albeit young and inexperienced in some areas — and the opening of the renovated Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 5 once again has the UK fan base energized.

“We need to take the next step,” Stoops said. “We need to be more disciplined in our approach and more consistent. That is the bottom line. So I think that’s what’s exciting to me that these guys are eager.”

It looked as though Stoops had the Cats way ahead of their rebuilding schedule after jumping out to a 5-1 start last season. However, UK went on to lose its final six games by an average of 22.3 points per game and miss out on postseason play.

The final six games were a disappointment to what had been a promising start to the season for UK players. Despite last season’s disastrous finish, running back Stanley “Boom” Williams still believes that there’s been a turnaround for the football program.

“There’s just a new energy here in Kentucky,” Williams said. “When you walk into the stadium, you can feel it. New players, new coaches, everything is just brand new around here.

“We’re not going to rush the process, but everyone is waiting for Sept. 5 because Commonwealth (Stadium) is going to be going crazy in this new stadium.”

Players such as quarterback Patrick Towles have not been shy about their expectations. During an interview with Paul Finebaum on the SEC Network, Towles said that the Cats have the potential to win the SEC East.

“I think we can get to Atlanta,” Towles said. “I can say that with as much confidence as I’ve got. We’ve got the pieces in place, we’ve got the coaches and we’ve got the guys. I’m confident in my receivers, my offensive line and my defense. We have leaders all around, and I have no doubt in my mind that we have the talent to get to Atlanta.”

Despite all the high hopes that the players have, Stoops said that this season wouldn’t be defined by a set number of wins.

“Just improvement across the board. You know I’m not going to fall into that trap that some of our players have and I’ve let them,” Stoops said. “If they want to talk about a bowl game and all that, fine, but we’ve got one game. We can’t get two, right? So we got to take care of business one week at a time and one day at a time.”

Athletic director Mitch Barnhart also wouldn’t say outright that a bowl game is the expectation for UK this season.

“You just want to make progress, we have seen this group of players to get better with the staff and the growth of individuals or by position or off the field in recruiting,” Stoops said. “We just need to see improvement and that’s what I like most.”