The idea for this post came to me as I was (kind of pathetically) looking at next year for my three favorite sports teams. As I read a very sobering but still cautiously optimistic post about Kentucky's upcoming football season, I ran across sentences such as "Kentucky fans have a hard time coming to grips with the idea that Vanderbilt is no longer the bottom dweller in the SEC. What was once an assured SEC win has become two embarrassing losses over the last two years." This was all a tough read, (more thoughts on that post and Kentucky's future in a minute) but then when I looked at the New Orleans Saints' upcoming schedule I noticed similar statements to the tune of "In a preseason rematch of a 2012 regular season game we'd all be better off forgetting.." - From http://www.canalstreetchronicles.com/2013/4/6/4189560/nfl-preseason-2013-new-orleans-saints, in reference to the Saints' first preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
I immediately noticed the two teams are in similar situations (I actually thought I was still reading the SAME article for a minute!): Mark Stoops is a new coach with high expectations placed on him, specializes in defense, and the team is coming off of one of the worst records in recent history (not that Kentucky has ever been a powerhouse in Football but that's not the point); Sean Payton is returning from suspension this season, again with high expectations, hired a new defensive coordinator in Rob Ryan, and is trying to pick the team back up from the worst season since his arrival with the program in 2006. Coach John Calipari looked very similar to these two coaches, though on a slightly different time frame, with his arrival in Kentucky in 2009.
All three of these men are going into their respective 2013-2014 seasons with a lot to prove, but all have been dealt a better hand than last year's. The Saints have their head coach back, and they still have a powerhouse offense spear-headed by Drew Brees. Their defense really has nothing to lose, so it should be very exciting. Mark Stoops comes to Kentucky in extremely high regard and was able to put together a #29 recruiting class (Kentucky's incoming class last year was #60) in just 6ish weeks at being with the school. This is the first testament to his ability, and while #29 is still low compared to the rest of the conference, it is a notable improvement and it appears to be a foundation on which Mark will begin to build a program Kentucky fans just might get excited about. Finally, John Calipari and his most recent batch of freshmen disappointed the most spoiled and awesome fan base in the country, the Big Blue Nation. Our last coach was fired for making the NIT, though he never won a national title and he also wasn't dealing with a completely new team, losing all five starters and some change to the NBA draft. But I digress.
The Wildcats' basketball season is already getting hype, with arguably the strongest recruiting class in college basketball ever (Kentucky has 6 McDonald's All-Americans committed for the 2013-2014 season), the possibility that Andrew Wiggins, the number 1 overall-ranked incoming freshman, chooses to come to Kentucky and more returning "veterans" than Calipari is likely to know what to do with. Kentucky will have a strong upperclass leadership in Kyle Wiltjer and Jared Polson, talented returning sophomores, and ridiculously good freshmen talent. The depth of this team gives Calipari more tools than he's ever had at Kentucky. I don't want to get caught up in the hype until I see them play, but #9 would be nice...
The important thing for all fans to remember is that there is never a sure thing in sports, but this next year should be a lot more fun to watch than his past year. Two of these three teams are contenders to win it all, while with the third we are really just looking for solid improvement throughout; the writer of the article I referenced above estimates a 4-8 season for Kentucky Football, and points out that people have a wide-range of expectations for the Wildcats, anywhere from no improvement to an 8-win season. I think 8 wins is pretty far-fetched for this young team and new coach, but I don't think 6 is out of the question. Only time will tell.