Forget the streak.
Forget three decades of always walking away from a Florida-Kentucky game with a smile on your face.
Forget about that time a fresh-faced teenager asked you, “So, Mister, were there telephones the last time Kentucky beat Florida in football?”
None of it matters. The only thing that matters tonight at a field named after a grocery store (pickoff on aisle three?) is that this is a different Kentucky team that Florida is facing.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Kentucky with the wide-tackle six and players who worked weekends making sure the horses were fed. This isn’t your father’s Kentucky where your biggest concern was a 300-pound quarterback who was so good he always gave you a chance, just not at the buffet line.
This isn’t even your older brother’s Kentucky team full of skill players who scared you just enough to make you pay attention.
No, this is a Kentucky team that is finally an SEC team in more than name only.
There are 14 teams in this conference, but only a handful who are truly SEC teams with Transformers on the defensive line, long-armed aliens on the back end and running backs who enjoy contact.
“We have an edge about us,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.
It would be simplifying things to say that the reason Kentucky is a threat to Florida’s three-peat in the SEC East and 31-peat in the series is because Stoops was given time. He is in his fifth year at UK and has managed to steadily build an SEC-worthy roster.
Just this week during his radio show, Stoops brought on his buddy Toby Keith, the country singer and entrepreneur, who said this:
“It’s important Kentucky gave him enough time to get his players here instead of going three-and-out again.”
To be fair, Kentucky hung in there with Rich Brooks, lost Guy Morriss to another school and while it did cut Joker Phillips after three years, Hal Mumme (NCAA issues) cut himself.
And we should be sure to put this Kentucky revival in perspective. Stoops has a 22-30 record and is 15 games under .500 in conference play.
But late last season, you could see that — as the Beatles sang — “you have to admit it’s getting better.”
Kentucky went to a bowl game and finished 4-4 in the league. Currently, they are 3-0 and coming off a road win over South Carolina. A sellout crowd will try to blue-out the mighty Gators tonight, tear down the goalposts and announce its presence in the SEC with authority.
“I’ve seen it come a long ways,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “It’s the most complete team they have had. They are playing the way he wants it played.
“This is a totally different Kentucky football team.”
It’s light years different from just last season when the Wildcats were boat-raced in The Swamp 42-7. That was the second game of the season and Kentucky lost its quarterback, pro-style slinger Drew Barker, for the rest of the season in that game.
Enter Stephen Johnson, oozing confidence and taking advantage of a different scheme.
“We knew we had to change some things,” Stoops said. “We had to go find a clear identity of what we could do. Fortunately, we found that recipe.”
Kentucky is now a team that loves to run read-option plays and halfbacks out of the wildcat formation. The Wildcats dine on consumed clock minutes. And they have the SEC’s best rush defense, allowing only 57 yards a game.
Yep, old school SEC football.
That’s what Florida’s football team will be facing tonight in a hostile environment — a physical, line-of-scrimmage football team that might run it 10 straight times and then go right over your top when your neophyte defensive backs are gritting their teeth waiting for the impact of a running back.
And if these Wildcats truly have an edge honed by 30 years of frustration — even if they haven’t experienced it — there’s only one way Florida can win.
Have an edge.
Be ready to make tonight last until there is no time on the clock.
Last Saturday might have been a spark for this team. Tonight we find out if it truly lit a fire.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.