Kentucky should be well acquainted with the phenomenon. For years, opposing fans (and probably teams) looked at the schedule, got to Kentucky, and thought, “Well, we beat them by 3 touchdowns last year. That’s an easy win.” But this time, it’s 6-1 Kentucky whose fans are falling for that same trick.

Success of the recent past does not necessarily equate to success in the present. But with Kentucky’s season hanging in the balance between pretty good and historically good, the Wildcats can’t afford to fall victim to — of all things — recent success.

Nick Saban made news a couple of years back when he used a pregame press conference to deride “rat poison.” That is to say that the storm of positive attention around a successful program can become detrimental. It can lead to a false optimism, led by the notion that rather than facing an active and challenging opponent, you’re just facing the ghosts of teams already vanquished.

Take Mississippi State. Last season, Kentucky picked off 6 MSU passes and held the Bulldogs to just 2 points — which they scored when a high snap soared over UK punter Max Duffy. UK’s 24-2 win looks like it should all but guarantee an easy win over the Bulldogs this Saturday. But there’s more to consider.

That was the 3rd game of Bulldogs coach Mike Leach’s tenure. Current QB Will Rogers was the backup. And in between State gifting UK interceptions like it was an early Halloween treat, MSU outgained UK 295-157. State had 18 first downs to 10 from UK, which certainly doesn’t seem consistent with a 24-2 win.

Again, that was then, this is now. State threw 6 interceptions last year in Lexington. They’ve thrown 7 total in 7 games in 2021. Rogers hasn’t passed for under 294 yards in a game this season. State’s receivers are better, its offense more experienced. Their defense has been stout. MSU holds opposing rushers to 3.4 yards per carry. A 4-3 Mississippi State team could easily be 6-1, with Alabama the only MSU loss by more than 3 points.

And if Kentucky outlasts State, Tennessee lurks next. Of course, UK won that game last year in Knoxville by a 34-7 count. No problem, right? Again, a pair of pick-6s contributed to that score. The total yardage in the game was 294-287. Both of the Wildcats who made pick-6 are playing on Sundays. And meanwhile, Tennessee isn’t the same Tennessee. The Vols upgraded from Jeremy Pruitt to Josh Heupel. They upgraded from Jarrett Guarantano to Hendon Hooker.

But Hendon Hooker? Ah, the UK fan base relaxes. Kentucky beat him in the 2019 Belk Bowl. But of course, he’s not the same player he was in 2019. Hooker threw 22 passes, netting 110 yards (and 2 touchdowns) in Virginia Tech’s Belk Bowl loss to UK. In his 5 SEC games in 2021, Hooker hasn’t passed for fewer than 221 yards — and that includes games against top 10 foes Ole Miss and Alabama. He’s thrown for 17 touchdowns against 2 interceptions.

None of this will be news to Mark Stoops. He acknowledged the physical nature of Mississippi State’s squad on Monday, calling them “a complete football team.” Having dealt with decades of Kentucky futility, he’s not about to let his team be destroyed by the ghosts of success. Still, it marks a neat marker of progress for Kentucky football. So often the overlooked team, Kentucky finds itself in position to make sure it’s not overlooking anyone else.