Though the University of Kentucky in Lexington may be better known for its basketball team, the UK football program has had a long and storied history involving some of the game’s greatest coaches and players.
The program began back in 1891 but didn’t become known as ‘Kentucky’ until 1913. Before that, they were considered the Kentucky State College while people referred to nearby Transylvania University as Kentucky University.
One of the greatest teams in school history was one of the earliest, the 1898 group that is now known as ‘the Immortals’. Coached by W.R. Bass, the team not only finished the season undefeated but it was also never scored on either. What makes the accomplishments of this team even more significant is that they were not a bunch of enormous individuals. The team’s average weight was 147 pounds.
The most successful era for the Wildcats was easily when legendary college football coach Bear Bryant was in charge (1946-53). During his tenure, the Wildcats didn’t have a single losing season, won their first conference title (1950; the only other one came in 1976), won three of four bowl games, and enjoyed their first 10+ win season with 11 wins in 1950.
Their final standings in 1950 according to the AP and Coaches Polls show the school ranked seventh in the nation. However, according to the Sagarin computer model commissioned by the NCAA in 2004, the Wildcats were the No. 1 team in the country that season. But the team has never been officially recognized as the national champion for 1950.
The football team hasn’t turned out the same number of professional players as the basketball team has, but there are two Hall of Fame NFL players that suited up for the Wildcats (George Blanda and Dermontii Dawson). There are currently 12 former players active in the NFL including one first round pick (linebacker Bud Dupree in 2015) and 2011 second-round pick Randall Cobb.
Head coach Mark Stoops has every reason to have high hopes for this coming season, his fifth with the program. His offense will have eight returning starters including dual-threat quarterback Stephen Johnson. He should get a lot of help from the running back tandem of Benjamin Snell and Sihiem King. Johnson may have lost his best wide receiver in Jeff Badet, but he has two good ones in Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker.
However, to find success in the SEC, you have to be able to play defense. With nine returning starters, the Wildcats should be able to do that. Jordan Jones, Courtney Love, and Josh Allen give the team a formidable starting trio at linebacker. Denzil Ware will lead the pass rush, but the front four could stand to be tougher against the run.
Last season, the Wildcats finished the year with a 7-5 record; the team’s first winning season since 2009. It remains to be seen how competitive the Wildcats can be in the tough SEC, but they will certainly be a much more difficult team to beat in front of 62,000 screaming fans at Kroger Field.