You're darn right Kentucky is still underrated at No. 13
Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write in October. (About football, anyway.)
Kentucky is ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press Top 25, and it’s underrated.
Let that sink in. The Wildcats, who are still searching for their first winning season in the SEC in 4 decades, have a legitimate argument to be ranked in the top 10. The team that many (myself included) predicted to hover around .500 and possibly get to 6 wins is now 5-0 and tied with defending national runner-up Georgia in the SEC East.
What a time to be alive.
There’s no better underdog story in college football right now. But as we head into the first weekend of October, I can’t shake the feeling that Kentucky is still not getting enough love.
Twenty of the 61 Associated Press voters had Kentucky ranked outside of their top 15. One writer, Jerry DiPaola of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, even had Kentucky outside of his top 20 (!) ranked behind a Virginia Tech team that lost to Old Dominion last week. What?!
So for those who haven’t tuned into a Kentucky game this year, here’s a brief rundown of what you missed:
- 3-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1977
- +46 in SEC play
- Tied for 3rd in FBS in scoring defense
- Benny Snell being Benny Snell
Even if you want to ignore those numbers, here’s one that’s extremely noteworthy. All of Kentucky’s SEC wins were by double digits. All of those teams spent time in the AP poll this year.
Compare that to the 1-loss teams that are ranked ahead of Kentucky (Auburn, Penn State and Washington). Sure, Auburn has the neutral-site win against Washington. Kentucky can’t top that. But none of those teams have 3 wins against teams that spent time in the Top 25. Combine their totals and they match Kentucky (Washington has 2, Auburn has 1, Penn State has 0).
And it’s probably worth mentioning that unlike those teams, Kentucky hasn’t lost. You know, just in case you forgot.
At least a few voters didn’t forget that yet. Five voters had Kentucky in their top 10. Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle even had the Cats ranked No. 9, ahead of the likes of Auburn, Penn State and Washington. Maybe Robinett is writing the same column that I am right now.
The reality is that while we saw “polls don’t mean anything,” they do shape perception. (LSU is fighting the same preseason prejudice.) For a program that started off unranked like Kentucky, confirmation bias will rear its ugly head the second it loses a game. And suddenly, because Kentucky has a loss, it’ll be viewed as a fraud unlike preseason Top 25 teams that have essentially identical 1-loss résumés.
Keep in mind that the Playoff selection committee references the AP poll for comparison. Also keep in mind that we’ve yet to see a team start the season unranked and make the Playoff.
Kentucky has a long, long way to go to make that conversation one worth having. Nobody is even saying that the Cats will compete with Georgia and win a division title. For what it’s worth, that is the lone remaining ranked team on their schedule.
But it seems that some are still not buying Kentucky as anything more than a cool September story. Shoot, the oddsmakers didn’t even have Kentucky as an opening favorite at home against unranked South Carolina this past weekend.
We saw how that played out.
It’d be fascinating to watch how different the perception would be of Kentucky in 2018 without the history. If the fact that Kentucky didn’t just earn its first AP poll ranking in 11 years, would we be looking at a top-10 team? I’m not sure. I’d be curious to know how people nationally would be talking about Snell and Josh Allen if they were playing for Alabama or Auburn.
That’s part of what makes this Kentucky team what it is. It’s full of guys like Snell, Allen and Jordan Jones, who seem dead-set on making the Power 5 programs who wouldn’t offer them regret that decision. It’s been fun to watch.
I’d recommend it for those who are still tuning in elsewhere.