Kentucky is a basketball school. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.
It always has been and likely always will be.
Still, the Wildcats managed to earn bowl berths in each season from 2006-2010. In three of those years, Kentucky wrapped up its season with a bowl victory.
As coach Joker Phillips enters his third season at Kentucky, he will be looking to get his program back to a bowl game.
A disastrous 2011 season snapped the program’s five-year bowl game streak, as Kentucky finished a disappointing 5-7 (2-6).
Despite the season of losing, Kentucky was able to build some momentum in the final game of the year, knocking off rival Tennessee and keeping the Volunteers out of a bowl game.
“Although we did not reach our goal of getting our program into a sixth straight bowl game, there was a goal, our last goal of our 2011 season, which was to win our last game,” Phillips said. “Prior to last season, it had been two seasons before, actually three, that we had won our last game. So one of our goals last year was to win our last game, and we were able to reach that.”
Now, Phillips will continue the long process to attempt to right the ship with a young cast of players.
“We signed a full class last year of 25,” he said. “All 25 of those guys are on our campus. Of those 25, we have 13 in our football camps on our campus. I think that is huge.”
What will be even bigger for the Wildcats is consistent production from the quarterback position.
Kentucky is in the midst of a quarterback competition between Max Smith and Morgan Newton.
Phillips is yet to name a leader in the clubhouse but said he likes what he sees from both players.
“There’s been numerous Saturdays and Sundays that we get calls from those guys that they’ve gathered a group of six or seven guys up and gone over to throw,” he said. “I think that’s a positive deal there.”
With low expectations coming into the season, the team is hoping to fly under the radar and steal enough victories to at least avoid the SEC cellar this season.
“We know that a lot of people don’t give us a whole lot of respect at the beginning of the season because normally we have a lot of young guys that we are going to be counting on to step up,” center Matt Smith said. “We use that plus disappointments and positive notes from last year for motivation going into this year.”
At a university full of winning programs —whether it is men’s basketball, women’s basketball or baseball — the football team is hungry to be part of the tradition.
“It’s not only the basketball team that’s winning,” defensive end Collins Ukwu said. “We have teams like the baseball team and women’s basketball team so there are billboards and banners all over Lexington that show us that we are just a winning type of program, and that motivates us to be better.”