Football improving, but bar needs to be set higher

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

The UK football program has seen five coaches come and go since 2000.

The combined record of the five (which includes the final year of Hal Mumme) is 70-111.

For a program that resides in the historically powerful Southeastern Conference, the continued mediocrity has become expected. Even under Rich Brooks, the program never won more than eight games and fared no better than the Music City Bowl.

Vanderbilt, a program more middling than UK, has had two nine-win seasons since 2000. The last time UK won nine games in a season: 1984. The last time UK won 10 games: 1977, under Fran Curci. And even he couldn’t sustain the success. He went 15-28 in his last four years as coach.

Mark Stoops, the current head coach, does not have history on his side. As he heads into his third year, however, UK followers are optimistic about the 2015 season. An influx of young, SEC-caliber talent has migrated to Lexington.

With Vince Marrow, a masterful recruiter, UK has mined Ohio and the surrounding regions. Though the rankings have the Cats penultimate in SEC recruiting, the continued improvement allows for a breath of optimism.

But is that enough?

The 2015 schedule reads like an elbow to the sternum. South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia and Louisville should be a cause for concern for the Cats.

Theoretically, UK has a chance to beat Florida and Louisville. Both teams are re-arming and this will be the year to take them down.

As Stoops enters his third year, he needs to show improvement. A 5-1 start last season, which honestly should have been a 6-0 start, turned into another typical season of questionable play calling and uninspired football.

This season, though, Stoops has an array of talent at his disposal. Patrick Towles is back – he will be the starting quarterback – and he has an offense around him that returns savvy veterans and introduces some shiny new toys. The defense, which allowed 30-plus points in seven games last year returns mostly intact, save for the departure of keystones Bud Dupree and Za’ Darius Smith.

So yes, it’s ok to be optimistic as long as you don’t look at the schedule.

The Stoops hump is six games. Despite signing a contract extension through 2019, Stoops needs to win that sixth game to sooth the UK suits, which might be plausible.

UK should beat Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida, Eastern Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Charlotte and Louisville. Just don’t expect a pretty season. UK will probably sit at 3-6 before it heads to Vanderbilt in mid-November.

Regardless, it will more than likely be another year that UK football looks to achieve mediocrity. Here’s to reaching .500.