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UK still striving for respect despite last year’s success

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Respect is earned and Kentucky is out to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. Convincing others outside the Bluegrass State won’t be easy, given the team’s past history on the gridiron.

The Wildcats finished 7-5 during the regular season before losing to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Despite losing its starting quarterback in the third game of the season, Kentucky rebounded and won seven of the last 10 games of the season, an impressive finish that concluded with a 41-38 triumph over rival Louisville.

Although the Wildcats came within a game or two of possibly winning a first Eastern division title in the Southeastern Conference, national experts aren’t ready to jump on the bandwagon just yet.

It took two years for Mark Stoops to beat a ranked team and he’s done that for two years straight, including last year’s upset of the Cardinals on their own home turf. Overall, Stoops is 2-9 against ranked opponents, with most of those setbacks occurring during the first two years.

Earlier this week, USA Today projected the Wildcats to finish at 5-7, including a 2-6 mark in the conference. The publication also had South Carolina and Missouri ranked ahead of Kentucky, with both programs still in rebuilding mode and searching for an identity.

In another national ranking, CBS Sports listed the Wildcats at No. 51 in the nation and also had Missouri and South Carolina listed above Kentucky. Realistically, the schedule is a favorable one for the Wildcats, who could yank out eight, possibly nine victories this season. Much like last season, seven wins would even be considered a success.

I’m not sure what goes into many of those preseason rankings, but Kentucky isn’t the same program it was two years ago and even more than four years ago when Mark Stoops was hired to take the Wildcats to new heights. If you’ve been around the team, it’s obvious the team is beaming with confidence and ready to build on last year’s success.

“Our confidence is through the roof right now,” Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad said. “We’re coming in every single day trying to become a better team. You can definitely tell we’re coming off a winning season and not a losing season.”

The players also realize they can’t rely on last year’s successes to lift them to even more greater accomplishments this season.

“We, in no way, shape or form be complacent at all,” Conrad said. “We always want to strive to be better every single day. All these guys are hungry and no one is complacent.”

That’s a good sign and the exactly the approach the Wildcats should be taking despite being judged on three of the previous four seasons.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.