Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Exorcising the Ghost of Marty Moore

At the risk of counting chickens before they hatch, putting the cart before the horse, and jinxing the current good fortune of Kentucky football all within the same blog post, I had to post this now given the good feeling that surrounds the Big Blue football program. And seeing how rare it is that UK gives its football fans the opportunity to feel good, I may not have this opportunity for another 5-10 years. So here goes.

When November rolls around fans of the University of Kentucky typically have their eyes exclusively peeled to the upcoming basketball season, and football lingers like an unwanted gnat. The Vanderbilt game is nearly always a gray, dreary matchup of the cellar dwellers in the SEC. By the time the Saturday after Thanksgiving gets here, Commonwealth Stadium is infiltrated by waves of orange and the incessant -- some would say obnoxious ;-) -- rumblings of "Rocky Top" can be heard in full blare. Occasionally the UK football fan is still clinging to the hope of a winning record heading into the final game of the season, but a win over Tennessee in the finale hasn't happened for 21 straight years.

This season is a bit different. For the first time since 1999 Kentucky has qualified to go to a bowl game. The team should be 7-4 by the time the annual grudge match with the Vols rolls around next week. The Cats have a young team dominated by underclassmen and are led by an underrated quarterback who has made the transformation from indecisive and turnover-prone to confident and explosive. UK has won its last three games including an upset over periennal power Georgia and a fourth-quarter comeback against a better-than-average Vandy.

So with this rare feeling of good fortune comes an extension to the football season that has me looking ahead to bowl possibilities. The most likely candidates for Kentucky would be the Music City Bowl in Nashville or the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. But an outside possibility exists for an invitation to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Several things would need to happen, not the least of which is a Kentucky victory in Knoxville next week. Despite the fact that I predict such a victory nearly every year ("No this really is the year") and despite the fact that my spy (my friend Eric who is a grad student at UT) is nearly guaranteeing that the streak will end this year, a win at Tennessee will be difficult as it always is.

Still for a moment let's assume the Cats continue their improbable run and finish 8-4. (I'm up to eleven chickens now I know.) This would put Kentucky in second place in the SEC East, and the Peach Bowl would definitely be within the realm of possibility. As the Peach Bowl pits SEC vs. ACC, a potential matchup could be against Clemson which would reunite the two schools from their clash in 1993 when I was a freshman at UK.

Such a scenario is the ideal cap to a solid season -- a chance to end many a bad streak: the losing skid to the Big Orange, the ghost of Marty Moore, the 22-year drought without a bowl victory. Don't get me wrong. There are still plenty of ghosts to be exorcised: the last second Chris Doering TD catch against Florida, the horrendous Hail Mary loss to LSU, and so many more. But with such a history of awful defeats, UK fans can't expect them all to be erased in one year.

Here's hoping the good fortunes continue and some ghosts are on their way out. Cheers!

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