I don't really intend to spend too much time on this, having already addressed it here and planning to address it more in the team-specific preview for Kentucky. But the Wildcat faithful continue to chafe at their fourth-place showing in the division, and they seem to be developing a huge inferiority complex with regards to the Gamecocks, leading them to make statements like this:
Man, I want that visor, and I want it this year. Spurrier has owned us completely. Yes, we have been close. No, we have never, ever gotten the job done against the Ol' Ball Coach, and I want that scalp ... errr, visor, on our wall. South Carolina has to come into Commonwealth this year, and I'm telling you, the Gamecocks are not that tough. If anybody but the OBC were coaching them, they would be ranked behind us right now. [EMPHASIS C&F's]
I should say quickly that I like Truzenzuzex, who is one of our SEC Power Poll members and generally a nice guy. But this is one boastful statement too many from the UK fans, and I would like to respectfully point out the actual reasons South Carolina is ranked above Kentucky.
First of all, the statement about Spurrier's coaching being the only reason is somewhat confusing. To an extent, any program's value is related to its head coach. All one has to do is look at the difference between Georgia under Ray Goff or Jim Donnan and Georgia under Mark Richt. No one would seriously contend, I don't believe, that most of Goff's teams would beat most of Richt's teams most of the time, but that doesn't in any way cheapen the worth of Richt's teams.
Because the head coach controls recruiting, makes almost all significant football-related hiring decisions and has a hand in most other aspects of the program, in addition to all the gameday decision-making, a college football coach has a tremendous impact on the quality of a program. To say a team wouldn't be ranked where it is if it didn't have a certain coach is ludicrous; one might as well say that a team wouldn't be ranked where it is if it didn't have certain players.
I believe, though, that Tru is talking about perception. Spurrier magically improves the perception of the Gamecocks, therefore if an equal coach with a different name were coaching South Carolina, Kentucky would be ranked higher.
First, let's review where the teams were last year. Kentucky was bowl-eligible and finished the year with an 8-5 record and was therefore superior to South Carolina, bowl-eligible but jilted in the postseason and owners of a 6-6 record, right?
South Carolina was still fouth in the SEC East last year. The Gamecocks and the Wildcats were both 3-5 in the conference and South Carolina held the tiebreaker by virtue of its 38-23 defeat of Kentucky.
The difference in the team's regular-season records came almost entirely in the nonconference arena, where South Carolina played Clemson (ACC, 9-4), North Carolina (ACC, 4-8), Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt, 3-9) and S.C. State (FCS). Kentucky's slate consisted of Louisville (Big East, 6-6), Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt, 8-5), Kent State (MAC, 3-9) and Eastern Kentucky (FCS).
It's not at all implausible to think that South Carolina would have likely held a 7-5 record at the end of the regular season had it faced the same schedule as Kentucky. (In fact, it's almost implausible to argue the opposite. Replace South Carolina's one non-conference loss, Clemson, with Louisville or Florida Atlantic, Kentucky's toughest non-SEC foes. Anyone think the Gamecocks' chances against either of those teams aren't significantly better?)
Kentucky's bowl win was against a Florida State team that had "three dozen" injured or suspended players. The Wildcats won by a touchdown.
This year, they lose 99.09 percent of their passing yards from last year (actual statistic, not an exaggeration), 73.95 percent of their receiving yards and 51.31 percent of their rushing yards. Similar numbers for the Gamecocks are 56.39 percent, 17.69 percent and 69.79 percent.
Kentucky has a QB controversy that is just as bad, or perhaps worse, than South Carolina's -- and with quarterbacks that had far fewer attempts last year than the Gamecocks' contestants.
Kentucky returns eight starters to a defense that allowed 397.15 ypg last year; South Carolina returns 10 starters to a unit that gave up 378.08 ypg.
I'm not saying South Carolina will defeat Kentucky in 2008. We'll know a lot more about that when the time comes, and only for certain after the game is played.
But the idea that Kentucky is easily a superior team, and that only perception is keeping the Gamecocks ahead in the preseason rankings, is one that seems to be held largely (if not exclusively) by the Kentucky faithful. There's a reason for that.