Florida vs. Kentucky: On Gators taking the winning streak for granted, and upset alerts

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Florida will probably beat Kentucky on Saturday. But Florida will probably lose to Kentucky at some point. And how we reconcile those prospects matters.

It's been Kentucky week all week, and yet I haven't even cared enough about Kentucky to think about Kentucky for more than 15 seconds or so at a time before sitting down to write this. This is not atypical: It's how Florida Gators fans feel about Kentucky, our lowliest annual foe, the one team that inspires no fear.

And can you blame me? Florida hasn't lost to Kentucky since 1986, hasn't been threatened by the 'Cats since 2007, hasn't really needed heroics to beat them since 2003. The Kentucky game is good for a beatdown every year (Florida's last five wins over the Wildcats have come by an unfathomable 238-36 margin), a chance to make magic (NSFW language on the second video) on the field, a scare that serves to elevate a quarterback from time to time. Kentucky's not good, not at football.

Florida is good at football, and has been, for a long, long time now, and Florida's 26 straight wins over Kentucky comprise the longest active winning streak in an annual game in college football. Florida's got the second-longest streak of that type, too, with 22 straight wins over Vanderbilt, but Vanderbilt's different in our minds: The Commodores had teams with Jay Cutler, teams that could throw scares into good Gators teams (Florida 28, Vanderbilt 21), and one outfit that fit both bills and took Florida to overtime in The Swamp. Three years ago, Vanderbilt played Florida incredibly tough in Gainesville, with Jeff Demps only sealing the game by breaking a defender in the fourth quarter; last year, Florida needed Jeff Driskel to run for the new school record for rushing yards by a quarterback to put away a pesky team.

Kentucky, even when it's had teams on par with those Vanderbilt teams — and the 2007 Kentucky team that beat future national champion LSU, Arkansas, and Florida State was better than any Vanderbilt team of the last 22 years — doesn't feel like a threat to Florida fans, though Florida's record in the series prior to making a mockery of it was just 20-17. Forget calling it a rivalry: The top three Google results for "florida kentucky rivalry" are from this site and Bleacher Report, and two refer to the basketball rivalry between the two teams.

Which, you know, exists.

And, as we learned when we asked, no Florida fan is trading a football win over Kentucky for basketball wins; I doubt Kentucky fans would make that swap if the sports were reversed, either.

This is a game between a team whose fans care about football first, and have cared about football for a long time, and who consider this game as a win yet to happen, and a team whose fans occasionally care about football as a thing to pay attention to before basketball season begins or a reason to boo Tim Tebow. I wasn't calling for a win last year; I was hoping for half a hundred. Five of the top six posts at A Sea of Blue today are about basketball.

There's nothing wrong with that, really, but it does create the strange presumption that, because Florida has "always" beaten Kentucky, it always will.

Much as we would like that to be the case, that's not going to happen. Streaks end, all of them — all of them — and this one will, too.

I don't know when that will happen, because it's clearly going to be rather tough for Kentucky to beat Florida: Its best shots (2011, 2010, 2007, the Zook years, etc.) have still ended with wins, usually lopsided ones, for the Gators, and it gets those shots by dint of Florida being down, not Kentucky being up. But it will happen, and there will be disbelief on both sides: Florida's will be poisoned by disgust, Kentucky's tinged with ecstasy.

So I get why The Gainesville Sun's Robbie Andreu and ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit have put Florida on upset alert, with Andreu predicting a Kentucky win, this weekend: Calling that unthinkable win is great fun to do. Acknowledging that, even with Tyler Murphy at quarterback and Dominique Easley out for the year, Florida is probably a lot better than Kentucky and should beat Kentucky? It pales in comparison. "Will this be the year?" is more compelling than "This won't be the year," and compelling things drive clicks and sell papers.

The chaos after that inevitable Florida loss to Kentucky will drive clicks and sell papers, too. I hope we never see it, because the overreaction on our side is going to be ridiculous, even if I know at heart that, someday, we will.

I really, really doubt we'll see it tomorrow night. But the unthinkable wouldn't be unthinkable if you thought it was going to happen.

Star-divide

Andy Hutchins is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.

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