LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The last time the University of Kentucky won its first two Southeastern Conference football games was – paging Derrick Ramsey – the unforgettable 1977 season.
Guess what Western Kentucky intends to do Saturday at Tennessee?
Jump to 2-0 in the SEC. Somebody get commissioner Mike Slive on Line One. Ask him if the league is still studying expansion. Might as well get Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops on the phone, too. If Western wins, Stoops will expect the media to make a hullabaloo out this situation, too.
A victory at Neyland Stadium would push the Hilltoppers ahead of Mississippi (1-0) in the SEC standings.
"It's very satisfying, literally, to see a plan come together, and that's what we've done with this program," WKU president Dr. Gary Ransdell said after the Hilltoppers opened their season by defeating UK. "You just see it taking a step each time we come out."
There are programs at the bottom of the SEC that schedule parades if they can squeak out two conference wins. Five SEC programs failed to win more than two conference games last season. Tennessee is one. Another is Arkansas, the place WKU coach Bobby Petrino, once worked.
It won't be easy. Many consider it unlikely. The Hilltoppers are nearly two-touchdown underdogs. But it's certainly not an outrageous concept. The Toppers were also underdogs, by 4-1/2, when they zapped UK in Nashville last Saturday.
"There's a tremendous buzz in our community," WKU athletic director Todd Stewart said. "Everywhere you go, people are taking about how well we played."
Don't the Hilltoppers become the talk of college football if they win this game, going 2-0 against SEC opponents without playing a true home game?
Won't producers of national radio shows begin the full-court press to make Petrino a featured guest Monday?
When Stewart hired Petrino last December he said he received about 20 e-mails and calls from people eager to tell him what a knucklehead move he had made. Most came from Atlanta, where Petrino once walked out on the NFL Falcons, or Arkansas, where Petrino was fired in April 2012 for lying about his affair with a woman he added to the Razorbacks' football staff.
This week Stewart's messages have not been X-rated. Sen. Mitch McConnell congratulated Stewart when McConnell spoke to the Bowling Green Rotary Club Wednesday. ESPN NFL columnist Chris Mortensen sent a text message. Ditto for former WKU basketball coach Darrin Horn.
"What impressed people this time around is just the feeling of how well they thought we played and really were in control of the game from start to finish," Stewart said.
There are other ways to measure the buzz. WKU fans have purchased all 2,000 tickets the Hilltoppers were allotted by Tennessee. Neyland Stadium is not sold out. WKU fans are pursuing more seats. Stewart said season ticket sales have topped 8,500, less than 100 short of the WKU record. He is convinced the record will be eclipsed before the WKU home opener against Morgan State, Sept. 21 – even if the Hilltoppers lose Saturday.
One more history lesson: From 2003-2011, WKU played 10 games against SEC opponents. The Hilltoppers lost all 10 by an average of nearly 36 points. Four of those games were before Western became an FBS program. The Volunteers thumped WKU, 63-7, only four seasons ago.
Now you understand why Tennessee was willing to pay WKU $800,000 to make the trip Saturday.
That's $300,000 more than Kentucky is giving Miami (Ohio) to visit Commonwealth Stadium this weekend. It's $350,000 more than Vanderbilt will pay Austin Peay for its 47-mile bus ride from Clarksville, Tenn. It's more than double what the two SEC schools in Mississippi are paying their two visitors for guaranteed victories.
The money is wonderful. But the fine print is unmistakable.
Sell your 2,000 tickets. Help fill the 12:21 p.m. programming slot on the SEC Network. Show the lack of SEC depth in both the offensive and defensive lines by the third quarter. Surrender in the final 15 minutes.
Smile. Take some souvenir snapshots. Say nice things in the press conference. Leave the visiting locker room in good shape. Take your check. Head home.
"It would be a monumental win to go into Neyland Stadium in front of 100,000 people and get a game like that," Stewart said.
Indeed, it would be. This time it is not outrageous to believe that Western Kentucky will do more than pose for pictures, take its check and go home.