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Severe Thud Watch

The coach who had led his team from the bottom of the SEC East to two straight winning season strode to the microphone and issued a bold declaration, despite losing several players crucial to his two successful season.

"I will not undersell this football team. I think we can win the (SEC) Championship."

You might think C&F is talking about Rich Brooks at the 2008 SEC Media Days. You would be wrong.

It was Lou Holtz. And the year was 2002.

South Carolina fans were as giddy as their coach. After all, the ageless wonder had led them to two winning seasons, and this season's team was arguably more talented, even with all those key players gone.

They went 5-7.

Now, do flash forward to Brooks' SEC Media Days session in 2008. Brooks was certainly optimistic, in his crotchety old man sort of way.

(Brooks faced a fair number of questions, by the way, about how long he intended to stay with the Wildcats. It's almost unseemly to ask a man about retirement so much unless he's drooling on himself. And then you know he's not going to answer the question anyway, because Bobby Bowden doesn't talk about that kind of stuff.)

"I think we became a viable team in the SEC East," said Brooks, as one reporter checked his pulse. "I believe we'll be a viable team again this year."

"One team has a run of being very, very good, and they might fall off. And by 'falling off,' that means they're not playing for the SEC Championship or national championship, they're just winning bowl games or playing in bowl games. It's great in my mind that now we're part of that conversation. We intend to stay there," he said, as another reporter handed him a MedAlert.

"I think that we've closed the gap on the talent level, which is the biggest siginificant difference in Kentucky football now versus four or five years ago," he said, as yet another reporter covered him with a blanket.

Kentucky has been a bottom-dweller for a long time before (and even for a few season after) Brooks arrived. No one saw the Wildcats doing as well as they did in 2006 or 2007. So it was probably no surprise to Brooks or his players that the assembled media once again chose the Wildcats to finish fifth in the SEC East.

"We're a lot of guys (who) have a lot of chips on our shoulders," said defensive end Jeremy Jarmon.

Dicky Lyons Jr. gave a typically amusing answer to the question.

"You're always going to have naysayers, people trying to put you down," he said. "For me, being a 5'11" white guy as a wide receiver, you're never expected to play in the SEC in the first place, so it's all bulletin board material for inspiration to prove people wrong."

But it will be difficult. QB Andre Woodson is gone. So are RB Rafael Little, WR Steve Johnson, WR Keenan Burton and TE Jacob Tamme.

C&F is not trying to slight Kentucky, or their fans, who are understandably excited about 2008. Much like their South Carolina counterparts of 2002, they see a team that gets better and reason that their lot in the league must improve. They perhaps don't see what eventually became clear to Gamecock fans a few years ago: That Florida is also getting better. So is Georgia. Tennessee? Eh, maybe.

Just a gentle reminder: It's not good enough to get better. You have to get better than everyone else.