There’s no denying that there is fan pressure on Coach Joker Phillips going into this season. After two seasons Joker has an overall record of 11-14 and only four wins in the SEC. Fan criticism reached its peak last season when the Wildcats failed to achieve bowl eligibility after 5 straight years of playing in bowl games. It is likely that a six win season and possibly even a 5 win season would give Joker another year, but in a stacked conference like the SEC, it will be no easy feat.
Coach Phillips had large shoes to fill after taking over for Rich Brooks who had led Kentucky to 4 straight bowls and won three straight – a feat never accomplished in the history of UK football. As a result, fans’ expectations were raised from the depths of the probation era to levels not seen in years. It’s worth mentioning that Coach Brooks had a rocky start in his first three seasons with a 9-25 record complete with calls for his job even though he was rebuilding a program hit with probation.
Despite the recent discontent of some fans, the 3rd year head coach has had some notable achievements that have otherwise been overlooked. He was able to snap two of Kentucky’s longest losing streaks against Steve Spurrier (17 straight defeats) and the Tennessee Volunteers (26 straight) and is the first UK coach to take a team to a bowl game in his first year. One stat that may surprise most: he won more games for a first-year Kentucky head coach than any other in over 50 years. As offensive coordinator, he helped the Cats reach a school record 475 points during the 2007 season.
Looking ahead, Coach Phillips will have to venture through a challenging schedule with a relatively young team headed by an inexperienced quarterback. Three games will be against 3 preseason top 10 teams, and a tough road schedule with stops in Gainesville, Fayetteville, Louisville, and Knoxville will test this year’s squad. UK will likely be the favorite in at least 3 games, but likely no more than 4 depending on how the season unfolds.
The success of this season will hinge on the performance of this year’s offense. Joker is an offensive minded coach in a conference that prides itself on its defense. If he can break the offense out of the scoring slump it suffered throughout last season, the Wildcats should improve upon last season. A good place to start would be against Louisville this Sunday.
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