Jamie Vaught: The days of hope for a successful British football season are long gone as expectations build in

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Hope versus expectation.

It used to be that you hoped the UK would get lucky and have a winning season in football.

Not anymore. Hope is now gone as expectations have arrived for the Wildcat program at Lexington. The Cats are now targeting the SEC East Division title this fall. And they just wrapped up their second 10-win campaign in the last four seasons after posting just two in school history before that. (Kentucky went 11-1 in 1950 and a 10-1 record in 1977.)

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books on British basketball, including the recent “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine and professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via email at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.

Coach Mark Stoops’ Troops have also finished second in the SEC East three times in the past six years, beating mid-tier SEC teams like South Carolina and Missouri more often.

If you omit the first three seasons of Stoops rebuilding the UK program, his 47-29 overall record for a nearly 62 winning percentage over the last six years is pretty impressive, including a 4-2 record in bowl matches.

Thanks to Stoops, football culture in the UK has certainly changed dramatically.

And preseason college football yearbooks, unsurprisingly, are optimistic about the Wildcats for the 2022 season.

Nashville-based Athlon Sports predicted a third-place finish for Kentucky in the SEC East Division, trailing No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Tennessee with the Wildcats at No. 21 nationally. Birmingham-based Lindy’s Sports picked the UK at No. 2 with the Bulldogs at No. 1 and the Vols No. 3 with the UK at No. 24 in the national poll.

For the Western Division race, Alabama and Texas A&M are the favorites for the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, according to the two directories.

Of course, keep in mind that these preseason projections were made before All-SEC senior running back Chris Rodriguez Jr.’s recent off-field troubles in the UK. However, as of this writing, he is expected to play most of the season, if not all of it.

Athlon Sports, in its massive 296-page issue, also likes Kentucky to go to a bowling game in Florida on New Year’s Day. He has the Wildcats in the ReliaQuest Bowl, formerly called the Outback Bowl, and the Tampa Bay Bowl.

Either way, the Wildcats should be very good with more depth and talent than ever before, especially with senior QB Will Levis running the show.

It should be a fun season for the Big Blue Nation and Stoops has definitely made Kentucky’s future a whole lot brighter.

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