By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
I know sometimes national sports journalists are accused of being lazy when writing articles about the upcoming college football season and teams that are on the rise or teams that maybe don’t have any chance of competing in their respective conferences.
The Kentucky football program sees that same bias each year when journalists begin to make their picks for which teams they believe will perform well in the SEC in the upcoming fall season.
It now appears that at least some sports book operations might be able to be accused of the same thing. In an article by Mark Story in the Herald-Leader he quoted some odds for winning conference championships that had been issued by the Westgate Las Vegas Sports Book operation. The odds were for the likelihood that a specific team in the SEC would win the conference championship in 2020.
Of course at the top of the list were the usual favorites — Alabama at 5/4 and Georgia at 7/2 — followed by Florida at 4/1 and Texas A&M at 10/1. Then they picked LSU at 12/1 and Auburn at 14/1 followed by none other than the Tennessee Volunteers at 40/1.
The rest of the SEC — what this sport book group seems to think are the throwaways — in true horse racing fashion were thrown into a group that appears to be the field. That group consists of Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and South Carolina at 80/1 odds. Then they have the super long shots listed as Arkansas at 500/1 and Vanderbilt at 2,000/1.
Now here’s what strikes me as odd (no pun intended) for this list. I don’t have much disagreement with the picks — maybe Texas A & M and Florida are a little too high and LSU is a little too low — until the middle of the list. The sports book in this case has thrown in UK — a team that has outperformed the last two years and has a high percentage of their starters back along with a highly talented and experienced group of backups – with Missouri, a team that had a talented group of seniors last season and yet stumbled to a 6-6 mark, fired their head coach and now has a new first year head coach along with a new offensive and defensive system.
UK is also in the same group as South Carolina, a team that has Will Muschamp as head coach sitting on the hottest seat in the SEC as the Gamecocks once again last season disappointed their fans with a 4-8 overall record.
Also in that 80/1 group are two teams from the SEC West — Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Mississippi State ended their two year relationship with Head Coach Joe Moorhead after he led the Bulldogs to a 6-7 record and Ole Miss, a team that fired Head Coach Matt Luke on their way to a 4-8 record last year.
Now keep in mind that Kentucky has Head Coach Mark Stoops who is tied as the second longest tenured coach in the SEC behind only Nick Saban at Alabama and has an 18-8 record over the last two seasons with a second place SEC East finish in 2018.
See what I mean about lazy sports book picks.
Now I’m not saying that Kentucky will win the overall SEC Championship this season, but I’m not saying they won’t either. What I am saying is that they should do markedly better than the other teams listed in with them at 80/1 – unless they were to suffer a season ending injury to a key player or two like they encountered last season.
Even then, Mark Stoops and Eddie Gran have shown what excellent coaching can do by switching offensive gears to a Lynn Bowden-led attack in mid-season last year and still pulling out a successful 8-5 season that included a great win in the Belk Bowl over Virginia Tech – a team considered to be one of the best in the ACC.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is it appears the entire sports world — journalists and gamblers included — refuses to see what every UK fan has already seen. Mark Stoops and his staff are great football coaches, they recruit and develop top notch football talent and they know how to win football games.
Maybe one of these days, after Kentucky wins the SEC East and plays for the conference championship, the sports world will start to notice that UK has a winning football program. One that is capable of competing for an SEC Eastern Division Title every year.
Who knows, it might even be this year?