There's no secret about the challenges the University of Kentucky football team faced this season.
Injuries to key players piled up early, changes were made to the starting quarterback role throughout the year, and rain poured down every game for what seemed like the last two months.
Yet, through it all, the Wildcats have kept on chugging along.
With UK's dismantling of rival Louisville in the Governor's Cup last Saturday, the Cats finished the regular season at 7-5. Along the way, they earned a bowl game bid for the fourth consecutive season -- a goal that hadn't been accomplished since Rich Brooks did it 10 years ago.
Since taking over signal-caller duties midway through the year, Lynn Bowden has been a revelation. He's gotten much of the attention and credit for UK's success, and deservedly so, but the do-it-all junior hasn't been the only one responsible.
You've got to give credit to the big boys up front.
Kentucky's offensive line has had to adjust on the fly all year, providing running lanes and opening room when they -- and sometimes Bowden himself -- have no idea where the quarterback is headed.
For its effort, the UK offensive line was named to the honor roll for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation's most outstanding offensive line, earlier this season.
But it goes far beyond that, too.
During preseason discussions, the Wildcats' coaches and players were anticipating a huge breakout for their wide receiving corps. Terry Wilson was expected to launch the ball all over the field, and guys like Ahmad Wagner, Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps and Bryce Oliver were all expected to contribute.
Instead, they've become downfield blockers more than anything else.
"Big-name guys like Ahmad and the guys on the edge who are blocking constantly don't get near the amount of attention they deserve," senior left guard Logan Stenberg said on the Mark Stoops Radio Show Monday night. "Blocking on the edge opens up just as much as the five guys on the line, and we couldn't have done it without all of those guys."
So, it's been a year of change.
And, according to Stoops, there hasn't been any griping either -- especially since it's a recipe that's yielded success.
"That's something you can't brag enough about, how unselfish our players are," said Stoops, moments before boarding a plane to visit recruits during the next two weeks. "... I've never seen so much joy and being around a group that's embraced it so much."
On the year, Bowden has racked up 1,282 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns -- with all but 99 yards coming in the last seven games of the year. Defenses know he isn't going to throw the ball much, but they still haven't found a way to stop him.
"It worked so well that we looked pretty stupid that we didn't have him under center more," Stoops said, laughing. "We wanna be balanced and we wanna throw the football, but truth be told, if you do it from day one and put Lynn under center, he'd probably be in New York for the Heisman ceremony."
To be fair, however, that wouldn't be possible without offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and UK's other assistant coaches working to revamp UK's system.
Many of the plays they run are similar, but the Cats have done a remarkable job of disguising looks and using different formations to achieve the same outcome.
It wasn't always easy, either.
"We watched a ton of tape of different people, different teams, and (Gran) really worked hard," Stoops said. "We can enjoy it now and be proud of it, but there were some stressful moments. There were a lot of sleepness nights, a lot of stressful times.
"When we were in the midst of that, it was extremely difficult. It was a grind, and it was stressful, but that's where a seasoned veteran comes in. The coaches worked extremely hard, the kids bought in and did whatever was necessary, and we had an awful amount of success with it."
There were definitely some dark times this year, but the most important part is that Kentucky finally came out of the other end -- with a bowl game appearance to boot.
Now, the Cats are looking to cap off their less-than-conventional season with a bowl-game victory, wherever they might be headed.
And they'll do it as a team.