A fifth straight bowl appearance is nothing to take lightly, but Kentucky had higher hopes for this season.
The Wildcats (6-6) had visions of being a legitimate player in the Eastern Division race, and this was certainly the season to do it. Not only did Kentucky beat the East winner (South Carolina), but the Gamecocks were the only team in the division to finish with a winning league record.
It was Joker Phillips’ first season as head coach after taking over for Rich Brooks, and the Wildcats had their chances. They lost to Auburn on the final play of the game. They lost by a touchdown on the road at Ole Miss, which turned out to be especially damaging. They lost by a touchdown at Mississippi State and then lost for the 26th straight time to Tennessee.
A midseason shoulder injury to star running back Derrick Locke took its toll on Kentucky’s running game and also cut into the Wildcats’ overall balance.
The Wildcats’ undoing on defense was not being able to stop the run. They ranked 11th in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing an average of 170.1 rushing yards per game and giving up a league-high 28 rushing touchdowns.
Offensive MVP: Receiver Randall Cobb. He was the most versatile player in the SEC and one of college football’s finest all-around performers. Cobb’s 79 catches were tied for most in the league and he’s second nationally with 2,192 all-purpose yards.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Danny Trevathan. He’s the SEC’s tackles leader with 130 and the anchor of the Wildcats’ defense. Trevathan made that transition this season from being a good player to being an All-SEC player.
Turning point: Kentucky’s come-from-behind 31-28 win over South Carolina got the Wildcats back above .500, but they lost their next two games to Georgia and Mississippi State. At that point, their chances of finishing .500 in the SEC were pretty much gone, and they wound up 2-6 in the SEC.
What’s next: The Wildcats are one of only five teams in the SEC making their fifth straight bowl appearance. They will face Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The Cobb Watch also continues. He’s checking out his NFL stock and considering turning pro.