Student expectations higher than ever as football season approaches


Jack Weaver

UK students cheer before UK’s game against Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 35-28. Photo by Jack Weaver | Kentucky Kernel

Luke Fetzer, Reporter

Cue up “Grove Street Party” because Lexington is ready for the 2022 Kentucky football season to get underway.

The Wildcats are coming off a 10-3 season, finishing second in the SEC East while also clinching their second Citrus Bowl trophy over Iowa, something that might have seemed implausible to Wildcat fans just one decade ago.

Before current head coach Mark Stoops took the reins, Kentucky saw some of the lowest lows the program has ever seen.

In his three seasons at the helm Joker Phillips finished with a 13-24 record, being dismissed after his squad went 2-10 in 2012.

His replacement would be the now locally famous Stoops, brother of esteemed former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, and UK fans hoped the program had seen the worst of the storm.

They would have to wait.

In his first three years as head coach, Stoops fell under heavy scrutiny, seemingly leading Kentucky into the same pits as Phillips before him.

This would change in 2016, however, as UK finished 7-6, earning a joint tie for second place in the SEC East and an appearance in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

Since then the program has never looked back with the 2018 season in particular, seeing the Cats win not just their first ever Citrus Bowl but their first ever New Year’s Day bowl game over Penn State to finish the year 10-3.

Having won every bowl they’ve made since, Kentucky is consistently looking to challenge for the SEC East on a yearly basis, frequently fending off the likes of Tennessee and Florida en route to trying to take down Georgia for the throne.

With the new academic year underway and the football season quickly approaching, students are already gearing up for the first Caturday of the year, with Kentucky kicking off the season against the RedHawks of Miami Ohio.

Despite the lows the program felt less than 10 years ago, expectations seem to rise every year, with some fans even believing this Kentucky team could win it all.

“I feel like there is a chance we could go really far this year,” Louisville native and UK student Corbitt Toombs said. “I think we have a chance this year to beat Georgia, which doesn’t happen a lot.”

Toombs said the fact that UK gets to host the Bulldogs will play heavily into the home team’s advantage.

“Because it’s a home game, the energy in the student section is going to be crazy,” he said. “It’s going to be wild.”

SEC Network analyst Chris Doering also recently gave his season prediction for the Wildcats, with his take being a head-scratcher to many unassuming Kentucky viewers.
Doering predicted UK would finish the regular season 11-1, only losing on the road against the closest thing Kentucky has to an Achilles’ heel: Tennessee.

UK fan Brandon Miller believes Doering may have too much faith in the Volunteers’ chances.

“I think that him thinking we’re about to lose to Tennessee is a little absurd,” he said. “I think we have a really good chance to win.”

While many Kentucky fans would rather quit watching the sport than predict a loss to Tennessee, what about the other 11 games, most notably Georgia?

Most students remain optimistic but many see the matchup through a more practical lens.

“In the east we’ll always be behind Georgia,” UK student Joey Ruchser said. “I think we will flip-flop [Doering’s prediction]. We [will] beat Tennessee and lose to Georgia.”

Despite the emphasis, Tennessee and Georgia are far from the only two teams with potential to play spoiler on a Kentucky season with high ambitions.

Even after the heroics of the season prior, Florida always poses a threat to Kentucky as another bitter rival, and the matchup this season is in Gainesville in UF’s home stadium dubbed “The Swamp.”

While not predicting Kentucky to lose, UK sophomore Julia Lundstrom sees the matchup against Florida in week two as a critical game for the success of the season.

“Florida was such a big game [last year], and I feel like the momentum kind of took off after that game,” she said. “Hopefully they can do it again.”

The excitement is almost palpable for UK fans and the anticipation for another successful year has found its way into every nook and crevice on campus.

Though there is no consensus on how the team will do, one thing is certain: for a program that couldn’t muster more than two wins in a season a decade ago, expectations are high for Stoops’ Cats this season.