While many readers of The Atlanta Voice were sleeping in, brunching or preparing for a vision board party, the Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 27-24 in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando Jan. 1. Why am I writing about Kentucky Football? Because their story is reminiscent of, “The Little Engine That Could.”
July 16th, I covered SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame, the four-day conference which the head coaches of the fourteen Southeastern Conference football teams and three players from their respective squads preview their upcoming seasons. This event also serves as the unofficial kickoff to college football season. Head Coach Mark Stoops and running back Bennie Snell proclaimed to anyone willing to listen that Kentucky football is “tired of coming close.” Coming close to what? What did that mean for them?
Their desire was to compete for a championship. This year. Kentucky Football.
“We expect more, ” Stoops said in his opening statement. “We’ve been close. We’ve done some good things. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done, that we look forward to making a big jump this year. We return some players with experience. We returned some talent. We returned some players that decided to forego the NFL and come back to do more, to play with a chip on their shoulder, to win some football games. We’re tired of being close in some.”
Coming into the season, Coach Stoops talked up senior linebacker Josh Allen. This season, Allen tallied 88 total tackles, 17 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss and forced five fumbles as he led the Kentucky defense. Allen was recognized as the National Defensive Player of the Year.
“You all record this,” Allen told reporters after winning the Citrus Bowl. “If I don’t go No. 1, I don’t know who is.”
Many draft prognosticators
Meanwhile in July, running back Benny Snell answered questions about prominent schools like Ohio State overlooking him during the recruiting process.
“I do think I’m the best [running back] this year,” Snell proclaimed. “I have a very close relationship with my running back coach on and off the field. Passing and catching the ball in the backfield is something that I will be picking up on as well as correcting my pass blocking. I think this will make my aspects other than running the ball much better.”
289 carries, 1449 yards, and 16 rushing touchdowns later, Snell had an undeniable impact on the Kentucky Wildcats as they finished 2nd in the SEC East. Snell finishes his career at Kentucky as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,873 rushing yards. He announced before the game he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.
“There’s no question that these guys changed the culture,” Stoops said. “As I mentioned many times, it’s really easy to change the climate of a program. Culture is deep, deep, deep rooted for a long, long period of time. And, you know, it takes a lot to overcome and change that. And these guys did that.”
With the win yesterday, the Kentucky Wildcats secured their first ten win season for the first time since 1977.