There will be no Honey Badger, but Max Smith will still face his share of challenges in 2012
We are two days away from the start of college football season and five days from the Kentucky Wildcats opening the season against the Louisville Cardinals. In others words, it's go time. I must admit, it has been hard for me to get up for this year's season, though in the last couple of weeks I've felt myself coming around. I feel positive vibes coming from the Cats camp this year, and unlike in 2011, it does not feel forced. Here are my game-by-game predictions. I'll cop to being a little ambitious, but not overly so. As this will show, Kentucky could have a pretty good season based on current expectations and still not make a bowl.
Kentucky v. Louisville September 2 (3:30pm- ESPN)
The Cats come out slow against the Cards. An early special teams turnover leads to an easy touchdown for Teddy Bridgewater and Co. After a half of mostly inept offense for the Cats, Louisville leads 17-7 going into the break. In the second half, the Cats settle down on offense, with two sustained drives resulting in touchdowns. Kentucky bows up on defense, stopping two Louisville drives in the red zone and forcing the Cards to settle for field goals. With a 23-21 lead, the Redbirds attempt to run out the clock but are forced to punt after Mister Cobble stuffs a third and short play. After three first down hookups between Max Smith and E.J. Fields, the Cats kick a 37-yard field goal for the win. Kentucky 24-Louisville 23.
Kentucky v. Kent St. Golden Flashes, September 8 (7:30pm-College Sports South)
Despite having beat a Top 25 team on the road in the opening weekend, Kentucky learns there will be no such thing as a free lunch in 2012. Despite dominating the game in the trenches, the Cats' young back 7 is picked apart by Golden Flash QB Spencer Keith in the early going and the Cats enter the locker room down 21-14 at half. This time the wakeup call comes courtesy of CoShik Williams, who wears Kent State down in the second half. Kentucky escapes. Kentucky 28-Kent St. 24
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Kentucky, September 15 (7:00pm-ESPNU)
Though the game is somewhat competitive, the Cats seize control early and matters are really never in doubt. Avery Williamson leads the team with 11 tackles and Alvin Dupree adds three tackles for loss, including two sacks. La'Rod King finds the end zone twice and Raymond Sanders breaks off a 67 yard TB run. Kentucky 28-Western 13.
Kentucky Wildcats at Florida Gators, September 22
Lots of awful s&!+ happens. Cats lose. Score: Irrelevant
South Carolina Gamecocks at Kentucky, September 29
Kentucky manages to put the pieces back together back at home after a demoralizing spanking at the hands of the Gators. This one is more competitive than the 2011 tilt between these teams, but the Cats are overwhelmed nonetheless. Marcus Lattimore puts up Heisman-like numbers and Connor Shaw makes far fewer mistakes than his predecessor. Kentucky's tackles are taken to school by Jadeveon Clowney. South Carolina 35- Kentucky 14.
Mississippi State Bulldogs at Kentucky, October 6
Cats sit at 3-2 at this point with an important swing game on the schedule. The Bulldogs are coming off a bye week and should be no worse than 3-1 coming in. Tyler Russell and his senior laden receiving corps have a field day against the Kentucky secondary in the first half, but the Bulldogs are never able to establish a running game. Collins Ukwu strips Russell early in the second half, Taylor Wyndham recovers and scampers 23 yards into the end zone. A Demarco Robinson reverse early in the fourth quarter gives the Cats a lead that they never relinquish, as the Cats are able to take a man out of the box and ride out the rest of the game on the backs of Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. Kentucky 21-Mississippi State 17
Kentucky at Arkansas Razorbacks, October 13
This is never a game as Kentucky takes its second major beatdown of the season. A late game touchdown against second and third string defenders keeps the score from looking worse. Arkansas 49-Kentucky 10
Georgia Bulldogs at Kentucky, October 20
This one isn't much better. Unfortunately, the wheels will start coming off for Kentucky at this point in the season. Once the injury bug hits, the Cats lack of depth at offensive line and linebacker will catch up to them. It will be evident here, near the tail end of a brutal seven game conference stretch. To make matters worse, Aaron Murray and Co. will be coming off a bye week. Georgia 47-Kentucky 13
Kentucky at Missouri Tigers, October 27
Missouri may have a tough time in its first year in the SEC, but this should be a pretty safe game. The scheduling gods did Kentucky no favors here, as this will be the third time in four weeks a Kentucky opponent is coming off a bye. With thousand yard rusher Henry Josey out for the season, Missouri will rely heavily on QB James Franklin all year. This day will be no exception. The Cats will play valiantly, but will have no answer for the dual threat QB. Missouri 35-Kentucky 16
Vanderbilt Commodores at Kentucky, November 3
Assuming the season plays out as above, this will be an absurdly important game for the Cats. With Samford up the following week, Kentucky could virtually assure itself a bowl with a victory here. Revenge is a factor as well. In the midst of a weekend of my life I'll never get back, the Cats put on a pathetic display in Nashville last year, losing 38-8 to a team it had been beating almost routinely. Kentucky will put up more of a fight this year, but it won't be enough. La'Rod King will find the end zone a couple of times to keep this interesting, but the Dores skill position talent will prove too much for Kentucky's defense. Vandy 35-Kentucky 24.
Samford Martin Newtons at Kentucky, November 17
There might be some empty seats this week. Here's what you'll miss if you don't go: Max Smith's first 300 yard game as a Cat, double digit tackles by Miles Simpson and Kentucky's fifth win. Kentucky 35 Samford 16
Kentucky at Tennessee Volunteers, November 24
Da'Rick Rogersless Tennessee finds a way to win this one, even as the buzzards swirl around Derek Dooley's head. Tyler Bray makes up for laying an egg in 2011 with a solid game, then announces he'll turn pro shortly thereafter. Parked cars and jet skiers in the southeast breath a little easier. Tennessee 28-Kentucky 14.
So there you go. The Cats pull of a couple of upsets in the early going, but aren't able to sustain enough success to will themselves to a bowl. A 5-7, 1-7 finish with this roster buys Joker Philips at least one more year. Expectations will once again be on the rise for what should be a much more competitive team in 2013.
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