So, Kentucky isn't Cinderella, but the storybook season isn't over yet
The clock struck midnight on Kentucky’s Cinderella season Saturday afternoon.
Maybe it was the 65-yard punt return from Mecole Hardman that put Kentucky into a more or less immediate hole. Maybe it was D’Andre Swift eluding Mike Edwards on a late first half play that extended Georgia’s lead to two scores. Or maybe it was the no-nonsense drive out of the locker room by Georgia to extend that advantage to 21-3 with 10:20 to go in the third quarter.
In any case, in a development that would have surprised maybe a maximum of three people before the season (a couple of particularly daring Florida fans maybe), Georgia won its second consecutive SEC East title and will represent the division in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
What Kentucky has to realize is that unlike the storybook Cinderella, who was consigned back to the ash heap at home when the clock struck midnight, Kentucky still has plenty to play for.
A loss against a Georgia team that was more focused, talented, and complete than Kentucky’s run-and-defend crew doesn’t erase everything that came before, or the possibilities that still exist.
Kentucky has already clinched its first winning SEC campaign since 1977. The Wildcats will finish the season rolling into Knoxville to play a depth-challenged Tennessee squad, hosting Middle Tennessee State, and then close at a morbid Louisville team that is playing like it can’t finish the season (or lose its coach) quickly enough. (In case you missed it, Clemson hammered the Cardinals 77-16.)
There’s no reason that Kentucky’s strengths shouldn’t shine through against all three of those squads. Kentucky not only could, it absolutely should finish the regular season 10-2, which would leave the Wildcats probably solidly in the middle of the Top 25 rankings, and place them in at least their biggest bowl game since Tim Couch’s Outback Bowl appearance after the 1998 regular season.
The only thing Kentucky really discovered Saturday — other than that Georgia really does pace the SEC East in talent by a wide, wide margin — is that when Kentucky does what it does well — pound the football with Benny Snell, force turnovers with an opportune defense, and generally grind out wins — it looks really good. And when it doesn’t …
On any given Saturday, your favorite team (unless it’s Alabama, which is invincible) could be great. Or they could be in trouble. For much of the season, if Kentucky wasn’t great, it was good enough.
Saturday, Kentucky wasn’t good enough. Not even close. But they’ll play three more substantially flawed teams with a chance to write a list of accomplishments that even the most jaded Big Blue fan would have gladly accepted before the season.
Just because the clock on the Cinderella season struck midnight doesn’t give the Wildcats any excuse to stop punching the day-to-day time clock. There’s too much on the line for one bad game to define their season.