As Kentucky football bandwagon fills, 'Rat Poison' becomes Wildcats' most dangerous opponent
Entry No. 372 of new things Kentucky football fans have had to deal with in 2018 watching their team suddenly become the sexy bandwagon pick in the SEC East.
Yes, that’s right. After Georgia’s implosion to LSU and Florida’s ugly start against Vanderbilt, many across the college football landscape are looking to Lexington for the SEC’s East Division champion.
“I’m picking @UKFootball to win the SEC East now … The Kentucky Wildcats will be in Atlanta.”
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 15, 2018
For a program that has seemingly spent Mark Stoops’ six seasons getting in position to, er, get in position, a funny thing has happened. Kentucky is now officially set to drop a bomb on the preseason expectations of the college football establishment. But in order to reach that much anticipated Nov. 3 showdown at home against Georgia, Kentucky has three opponents it has to beat: 1) Vanderbilt, 2) Missouri, 3) “Rat Poison.”
No, that third item is not an unflattering nickname for the Louisville football program, although it might end up fitting well in that context too. “Rat poison” is how Nick Saban describes media hype. If it doesn’t ring a bell, check the video.
As an 11-point favorite this Saturday against Vanderbilt, the Wildcats will have to “endure” (as Saban might see it) a week of listening to how good they are, how talented they are, and how their game with Georgia on Nov. 3 will define the East race. For a success-starved Big Blue Nation football fan base, it’s like a week of pigging out on the fruits of victory. But for the Wildcats, Stoops and company will have to remain vigilant that those fruits don’t end up being rat poison.
Sure, while Kentucky sat at home and healed up during Week 7, Georgia took a brutal loss. Louisville also fell to 2-5. November foe Middle Tennessee fell to 3-3 with a Conference USA loss.
But meanwhile, Missouri showed sparks of a tough defense and a capable offense against Alabama. Tennessee resurrected with a 30-24 win over Auburn. And Vandy, lowly, humble Vanderbilt did play a quarter and a half of near perfect football to jump to a 21-3 lead over Florida. Sure, the Dores eventually lost, but if Kentucky is not wary of Vandy and rat poison, they could find themselves in a similar hole.
Vanderbilt is capable. They hung with Notre Dame for four quarters. They put a nice scare into the Gators on Saturday. While Kentucky is good, while Kentucky is talented, the Wildcats have struggled enough in the passing game to know better than taking any victory, even a fairly likely one, for granted.
Many times in recent Kentucky football history, a promising first half of the season gave way to a less-than-stellar back half. Think of 2007, when a top 10 ranking and a 5-1 start ended up with a 7-5 conclusion. Think of 2014 and 2015, when big starts against weaker competition (5-1 in 2014, 4-1 in 2015) ended up with late slides short of bowl appearances.
Granted, there are plenty of reasons to see this Kentucky team differently. Neither Peter Burns nor Barrett Sallee are stretching to find reasons to think the Wildcats could win the East. Benny Snell would find a way to turn credit into a slight and will keep a sizable chip on his Heisman-contending shoulders. A relatively healthy Kentucky team with a hard-charging defense will have a puncher’s chance against Georgia, and that game could indeed end up defining the fight for the East.
But before that game, Kentucky has to get by Missouri. It has to get by Vanderbilt. And perhaps most of all for this week, it has to get past rat poison.