By Dick Gabriel


If you’re like me, every now and then, you take a stab at cementing your financial future by purchasing a lottery ticket. When the pot has swollen to those dreamy totals, it’s hard to resist. I once read that your odds of winning are basically the same, whether you buy a ticket or not.  (But twice I’ve cashed in tickets worth $2 each–so in my mind, I’M A WINNER!)

It seems as though trying to win a Southeastern Conference football title is UK’s version of playing the lottery. The season rolls around and each year, the players line up. At the gas station, you can walk right by the cashier with your dollars tucked safely into your britches, but the Wildcats will field a team, regardless. 

And yet, before the season starts everyone is undefeated. It seems like the same chance. But we know better–don’t we? Think of it this way: do all the other SEC basketball teams really start the year believing they have a chance at unseating Kentucky? A couple of them do. (Most do not. Thanks for playing.)

The Cats have made a run at the top a few times and in the modern era, they’ve made it there twice. In 1976, UK won its only SEC football title. In 1977, the Wildcats went undefeated in league play but NCAA sanctions forced them to tear up that winning ticket without getting to cash it. Can you imagine?

We all know that when it comes to SEC football, at least half of the teams in the league are issued pre-season lottery tickets that have no chance of being winners.  The numbers printed on them may as well be hieroglyphics.  And lately it seems Alabama gets a ticket with numbers we already know to be winners, except maybe the Powerball, just for dramatic effect. The Crimson Tide just has to avoid any stumbles on the way to cashing in.

But what about Kentucky’s ticket this season? Could it be a winner? 

Can Kentucky stay healthy and muster enough big plays to find even more victories on a schedule that seems a
bit more manageable?

Based on what we saw last year, it just might be. The Wildcats got off to a bumpy start that soon degraded into a tailspin that threatened to become a downright spiral.  But they pulled out of it, posting crucial league wins over South Carolina, Vandy, Missouri and –by the grace of a last-second field goal–Mississippi State. And of course, there was the upset win over Louisville and its Heisman Trophy-winning QB, Lamar Jackson.

Kentucky has lots of talent returning, although in the off-season, it lost two big-play magicians. Boom Williams would attack by land, ripping off huge touchdown runs.  Jeff Badet’s assaults came by air, as he would sneak behind opposing defenses, haul in a long bomb and then win the ensuing sprint to the end zone. Replacing that kind of explosiveness is a must.

And there’s the fact that you have to stop the other guy. Georgia Tech ran over and through the Wildcat defense in the bowl game in Jacksonville. The SEC is big-boy football. You need more on defense than good looks and snazzy uniforms.

Thanks to some of the best recruiting in the history of the program, Stoops & Co. seem to have assembled a deep and talented roster.

So the multi-million dollar, lottery-winning question is: can Kentucky stay healthy and muster enough big plays to find even more victories on a schedule that seems a bit more manageable? 

If they do, Mark Stoops just might move to the head of the line with a big grin on his face, knowing that he’s holding the winning ticket.


Photo by Dr. Michael Huang