The last three years have been tough sledding for Kentucky’s football program.

After reaching five straight bowl games from 2006-2010, the Wildcats have failed to make a bowl game in each of the last three seasons, posting a combined record of 9-27 over that span and an even more discouraging 2-22 record in SEC play.

Kentucky’s record dropped in each of former coach Joker Phillips’ three seasons at the helm of the program, and current head coach Mark Stoops has had to rebuild Kentucky from square one, beginning with a trying 2013 season. There is an aura of hope surrounding the Wildcats as Stoops enters his second year in Lexington, which begs the question: How many wins would it take for Kentucky to consider its 2014 season a success?

The answer: four.

I know this number must seem discouragingly low to some fans, but four wins would be a huge step in the right direction. The Cats have proven they can beat non-conference foes in recent years; in fact, those have been the only teams they’ve beaten over the past two seasons.

So if you set aside Kentucky’s eight games against SEC teams, as well as its annual rivalry game against Louisville, you have to feel like you’re looking at three wins over three mediocre teams (UT Martin, Ohio and UL Monroe). Just winning those three games would not be a step forward for Kentucky – it would be a step sideways.

Simply put, Kentucky has to either win an SEC game or beat Louisville on the final Saturday of the season (in Louisville) to feel like it has accomplished something this year. Those are the nine games that matter. Beating Ohio will mean much more when Stoops Troops are verging on bowl eligibility and in need of every scrap to get to six wins, but for now all beating Ohio would prove is that UK can indeed beat another FBS opponent.

The Cats need to show the Big Blue Nation they can run with the big boys, even if it is just for one fleeting Saturday this season. Kentucky fans are savvy enough to understand Rome wasn’t built in a day. They know this is a process, and they’re willing to wait if given some inspiration.

Beating Louisville on its Senior Day or finally getting back in the SEC win column would be that inspiration.

However, if Kentucky does somehow drop a non-conference game to one of the three aforementioned teams, it would be a huge step backward. The Wildcats need their three non-SEC-or-Louisville games to be certain victories in the coming years as none of them are against an opponent from one of the five major conferences.

Thus, the answer is four: 3 non-conferences win + 1 win out of nine meaningful games = 4.

Kentucky’s talent is still very raw, but if Stoops and company can figure it out over the course of the season then four wins is certainly attainable.

And if it can’t figure it out and get that fourth win, well, that would make for a very disappointing offseason in the Bluegrass.