Rowland: Mark Stoops really, deep down, expects Kentucky to beat Florida

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

He didn't say anything out of the ordinary, and you expect head coaches in every sport to exude a confidence that's balanced by a healthy humility.

But one thing became as clear as day during Mark Stoops' weekly Monday press conference.

He really, deep down, expects Kentucky to beat Florida.

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Maybe Stoops has really felt that way in past meetings between his Cats and the Gators.

Maybe prior Kentucky coaches felt that way, too.

But it was tough to miss Stoops' confidence heading into Saturday's date with the Gators. Even as Mark Stoops praised the explosiveness of Florida's receivers, even as he spoke of the physicality of the Gator backs, and even as he channeled a little Mel Kiper and talked about Feleipe Franks' "arm talent", it was clear that he doesn't just hope Kentucky beats Florida.

He expects it to happen.

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Chances are, when previous Kentucky coaches have even said the right things leading up to UK-UF, there has probably often been a lurking doubt, a sneaking suspicion that things might go awry.

It doesn't seem like Stoops feels that way.

Stoops also didn't shy away from the significance of this game. Earlier today here at Cats Illustrated I wrote that it would be senseless to downplay the stakes here. A loss doesn't cripple the program. It need not even set it back. But a win would be turning the corner in the eyes of many both near and far.

“I’m not going to say that my chips are all in. That’s not ever the case. It’s always one week seasons to us. But on the other side of us, I don’t deny that it’s a big game,” Stoops said.

He went on to say that he would “desperately” like to win “for the fan base.”

While Stoops has often said the streak doesn't mean too much to him, because he hasn't been in Lexington for the vast majority of it, he's now in his fifth year with the program so, fair or not, he owns a sliver of it. But most of all he gave a nod to the fans who have followed the program for a lot longer than he's headed it.

And he really believes his team is going to do it.

Is he concerned the team might rest on its laurels after an emotional road win to start the SEC schedule?

“I’m not worried about losing the motivation at all,” was his answer.

And I believed him.

Couldn't it be tough to keep focus when this game will have so much anticipation, and given that the players have heard for years about how important beating Florida is?

“I have no reason to believe that this team won’t (stay focused),” he said.

Stoops said, or implied, that it's not going to be easy. He foreshadowed some tough times during the upcoming game.

“There’s going to be big plays…" he said.

But then the kicker.

“..I just feel confident that whatever happens, we can get it corrected…that feels very good. It feels different, in that regard.”

Given the history of this series, different has to be unequivocally regarded as a good thing. And last Saturday's game lends some validity to what Stoops' tone and body language seemed to say about the next one.

Stoops has always been bullish on this team. He has praised its leadership, it's improved "capacity," its leadership and growing depth. Beyond that, he's watched as his quarterback was the calm and collected one on the road last week. He's seen his team win 10 of its last 14. And he saw that team respond to a flurry of early punches in the first round last week.

So why not be confident?

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