Kentucky's good season was very close to great

When Kentucky looks back on its 2017 season the Wildcats are going to think—a lot—about what might have been.

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The Wildcats are 7-3 (4-3 SEC) as they travel to Georgia (9-1, 6-1) on Saturday. It is a big game for Kentucky against the nation’s No. 7 team. But it could have been so much more.

Two of Kentucky’s three losses this season have been the kinds that keep coaches up at night:

**--Kentucky lost to Florida at home, 28-27, because--not once but twice--the Wildcat defense literally left receivers uncovered. Florida turned both of those defensive gaffes into touchdowns. A win would have broken Kentucky’s 31-game losing streak to the Gators.

**--Kentucky led Ole Miss 34-30 with two minutes left but the Rebels drove 72 yards and scored with five seconds left to win 37-34.

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If Kentucky had won either of those games, the Wildcats would be playing at Georgia on Saturday for the SEC East championship. Win or lose, the narrative alone would have been a huge boost for Mark Stoops’ program.

“We’re like a lot of teams in that there are a couple of plays we would like to do over again,” said Stoops when we talked on Wednesday. “But we’re making progress.”

The Wildcats close out their season next week at home against Louisville.

HAS ODOM HAS SURVIVED THE STORM?

Back on Sept. 23 Missouri Coach Barry Odom gave an impassioned post-game speech after an embarrassing 51-14 loss to Auburn. At first it sounded like a man who was pleading for his job. As it turned out, he was not making the case to his employer or to Missouri’s fans. He was making it to his players.

“We just weren’t on the same page as a team,” said quarterback Drew Lock, who leads the nation with 35 touchdown passes. “We had too many guys worried about things other than doing their job. We’re playing with a lot more confidence.

Missouri has rebounded from 1-5 start to win four straight and now has a chance to close the season with six straight wins, starting Saturday at Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-6) and finishing next week at Arkansas (4-6, 1-6).

A 7-5 finish would certainly guarantee that Odom, who took over for Gary Pinkel, would be back for a third season.

FUTURE DOES NOT LOOK BRIGHT FOR BIELEMA

Everybody likes Bret Bielema, the Arkansas head coach. But the numbers don’t lie.

Five years ago Bielema left Wisconsin, where he had taken the Badgers to three Rose Bowls. He looked like the right guy to make the Hogs to competitive in the ultra-tough SEC West.

But as Arkansas prepares to host Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) on Saturday, Bielema is 29-32 overall and 11-27 in the SEC.

Word came Wednesday that Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, the man who hired Bielema five years ago, had been dismissed from his position. That can’t be good for Bielema.

TENNESSEE TRIES TO AVOID HISTORICALLY BAD SEASON

Tennessee athletics director John Currie mercifully pulled the plug on coach Butch Jones last Sunday. Defensive line coach Brady Hoke, the former head coach at Michigan, will run the team for the final two games with LSU and Vanderbilt, both in Knoxville.

Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) is trying to keep from turning a bad season into a HISTORICALLY bad season. Tennessee was a charter member when the SEC was formed in 1933. Never have the Volunteers gone winless in conference play for an entire season.

Five times Tennessee has gone through a season with only one conference win. The number in the win column has never been zero.

Tennessee hosts LSU (7-3, 4-2) on Saturday. If the Vols lose and Vanderbilt falls to Missouri, then Tennessee and Vanderbilt will meet next week in Knoxville with both teams at 0-7 in the conference.

That’s bad. Really bad.

WAKE FOREST ON FIRE

If you’re looking for a good game that’s a little off the radar, check out N.C. State (7-3, 5-1 ACC) at Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3).

N.C. State took Clemson to the wire last week before losing 38-31. The Wolfpack will have their hands full against the Demon Deacons.

Last week Wake Forest trailed Syracuse 41-27 with nine minutes left in the third quarter and stormed back to win 64-43. The Deacons had 734 yards of total offense. Quarterback John Wolford had 499 of those yards.

“He’s playing well and playing at a very high level,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said of Wolford.

But the Wolfpack will counter with a grown man named Bradley Chubb (cousin of Georgia’s Nick) who last week became the school’s all-time sack leader, surpassing the great Mario Williams.

With games remaining with Wake Forest and struggling North Carolina (2-8, 1-6), the Wolfpack has a chance to win nine games for the first time since 2010, when Tom O’Brien was the head coach.

NON-CONFERENCE BLUES

About a decade ago the SEC ruled that every team would hold its rivalry game on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. As a result we have a mixed bag of non-conference games on Saturday:

**--No. 1 Alabama (10-0, 7-0) hosts Mercer (5-5), a Southern Conference school that started its program in 2013.

**--Auburn (8-2, 6-1), which has the Iron Bowl with Alabama next week, hosts Louisiana-Monroe (4-5) of the Sun Belt.

**--UAB (7-3), which shut down its program in 2014 only to bring it back this season, goes to Florida (3-6, 3-5), which can’t wait to get the season over.

**--South Carolina (7-3, 5-3), which hosts No. 2 Clemson next week, hosts Wofford (9-1), which leads the Southern Conference.

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