There used to be a saying in Kentucky: Football is just the foreplay to basketball season (apologies if that grosses you out).

That saying is the epitome of what the University of Kentucky used to be — a basketball school in the nation’s best football conference, hopelessly fighting an uphill battle to earn legitimacy in the SEC. Fans have been quick to abandon the oft-struggling football program as soon as a basketball dribbles on the Rupp Arena hardwood, but this year is different.

John Calipari’s media frenzy has already overtaken the Bluegrass state, but the football team remains prominent among the Big Blue Nation. The Cats have already topped their win total from each of the last two years, snapped a 17-game SEC losing streak and got themselves halfway to bowl eligibility in just four games in 2014.

Needless to say, the Commonwealth believes in football once again.

Kentucky will host a vulnerable South Carolina program Saturday night in the Gamecocks’ first game as an unranked team in five years. The Wildcats faithful will be clad in all-black, and the atmosphere should be wild inside Commonwealth Stadium. If the Cats could win a second straight SEC contest, moving above .500 in the conference and ahead of South Carolina in the East standings, it would be their biggest win since beating then-No. 10 South Carolina in 2010.

But even more significantly, a win would put the rest of the SEC on notice that Kentucky is no longer the SEC’s doormat. The East is wide open, and a win Saturday night would entrench UK in the race for the division title. It seems baffling to even consider, but it’s true.

This is a huge game for Kentucky lost amid a number of other sexy matchups around the conference, but the game’s importance is not lost upon the Big Blue Nation. The Cats should be playing in front of one of their biggest crowds in recent history, and they have a lot to gain and a lot to lose.

Just playing in a game with this much significance is a huge step forward for Kentucky, and a win would be a season-defining win for the Wildcats.