A different year in 2010, and a new head coach, brought the same story: A win against one of the teams usually placed ahead of the Wildcats in the SEC East pecking order, and a package of wins against less-than-stellar competition to be bowl eligible. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The Cats did get rid of one of its irksome streaks -- a decade-long string of losses to South Carolina -- and got its first victory against Steve Spurrier as a bonus. But the longer runs of futility against Florida and Tennessee, which last lost to Kentucky during Ronald Reagan's first term, remained alive and well, even after the offseason turmoil at both schools and amidst the worst season of the Urban Meyer Era in Gainesville.
So did Kentucky at least make progress? Well, depending on how you define the term, maybe. After all, 2010 marked the first time the Wildcats defeated the SEC East champion in the regular season since the league split in 1992 -- even if it was one of the most jumbled races in years and the UK win came when the champion's offensive workhorse was out of the game.
Then again, there is the ever-more inexplicable loss against truly dreadful Ole Miss in Oxford. (The Rebels having already lost at home to Vanderbilt and Jacksonville State.) And the chaotic Pittsburgh Panthers, who weren't even aware who would lead them into the BBVA Compass Bowl until shortly before the game after watching one head coach resign under pressure and another fired for alleged domestic violence, still defeated Kentucky 27-10 in Birmingham to complete the 'Cats first losing season in five years.
So is that ultimately encouraging, or discouraging? Considering that some of the signature players from that team -- including Randall Cobb, who could justifiably be called "the offense" -- are now gone, the odds were strong that 2010 would be the high point of the first few years of the Joker Phillips Era.
But there again, mixed results. On Phillips' side of the ball, Kentucky had its best offensive year since 2007, an almost unacknowledged answer to those who had wondered about whether the coordinator of what had become a dreadful offense really deserved the head coaching duties. The Wildcats scored more than 30 points eight times in 2010, though the defensive problems meant three of those went down as losses in the record books.
Circling back around to the counterpoint, though: An encore in 2011 looks exceedingly unlikely. For Kentucky to have any chance at a bowl, the defense will need to tighten up
a bit a lot, and Phillips is going to have to put together a new-look offense that will be more his -- and so, for which he will be even more accountable.
Then again, take a look at Kentucky back before the current streak of bowl appearances started. Back then, the status quo was one of consistently waiting for basketball season and worrying about when the losing record would be clinched, not whether there would be one after a bowl. That the 2010 season the Wildcats had was more of the same was certainly a welcome change.
As for the slim chances for a repeat, most fans would likely tell you that the team has earned a rebuilding year.