Some fans have predicted an eight win season while others have predicted another two win season. Both lay in the extreme. The first is highly improbable and the second ignores our typically weak Out of Conference (OOC) schedule of Western Kentucky, Miami (OH), Louisville, and Alabama State.
An eight win season assumes we have more talent than we actually have and also assumes this new coaching staff can work miracles. A two win season assumes nothing has changed at Kentucky and assumes we won’t win an SEC game which IS possible if you look at the schedule with a clear and unemotional mindset. We have home games with Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Tennessee. We play South Carolina, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Georgia on the road.
The two win crowd, I’m sure, assumes we can beat Miami and Alabama State. A true pessimist, however, has to wonder about Miami. The eight win optimists, again I assume, believe we win our four game OOC games, ignoring the fact that Louisville has become a Top 25 program under Charlie Strong’s leadership. And, after winning all four OOC games, we will win another four SEC games. I have no idea which four SEC teams they think we can beat. One assumption could be Missouri and Tennessee at home and Vanderbilt and Mississippi State on the road.
One of the reasons Louisville’s schedule is so weak (90th nationally) is because Kentucky is on it. That’s reality. The fact is, Kentucky weakens all of our opponents’ schedules based on last year’s results.
I am going to assume victories over WKU (last year’s result was a fluke unlikely to be retpeated, imo), Miami and Alabama State.
Louisville will be heavily favored to win at Commonwealth . They have Teddy Bridgewater returning and their overall talent is rated higher than ours. They will be a Top 25 team. The optimist will point out that we beat them a few years ago when they were ranked #9, failing to mention that we had Stevie Johnson, and other WRs who could actually catch the ball. We don’t have the accuracy of Andre Woodson at QB this year and our receivers have not yet shown they can catch.
The Cardinals beat us last year, 32-14 at the Pizza Pit. I believe our defense will be better and the score will be more reasonable, but a loss is a loss. We should be 2-1 after this game.
Florida and Alabama at home is an exercise in futility for our still young Cats. That’s just the hand we were dealt. Florida will be in the mix for an SEC-East title and Alabama will be expected to win another national championship. Florida beat us 38-0 last year and it doesn’t even matter that we didn’t play Alabama (thankfully) last year.
Sandwiched in between is a road trip to South Carolina where our offense has to face the devastation that comes with the name of Jadeveon Clowney. The fighting visors will be in a three-way battle with the Gators and UGA for SEC-East dominance. South Carolina beat us 38-17 at Commonwealth last year. After these three games, our record should be 2-4.
After Alabama, you’ll have to wonder about our injury situation as we travel down to Starkville. Just for the record, the Bulldogs beat us 27-14 at Commonwealth last year. We would like to think that we are on the same level as Mississippi State. Could be..…maybe. They wound up with an 8-5 record including a Gator Bowl loss to Northwestern. The optimist can view this game as a win. The pessimists just can’t bring themselves to that assumption. So, we could be either 3-4 or 2-5. In my view, this could be our first SEC win since Tennessee in 2011.
After Alabama State, we play Missouri at home. The Tigers won two SEC games, beating Tennessee in Knoxville and, you guessed it, Kentucky at home. They received an education in SEC football in their first SEC season. They may have been bad, but they were better than UK by a score of 33-10. Their first SEC season resulted in their offensive coordinator, David Yost, resigning after 12 years on the job. Read about it here.
Coach Gary Pinkel promoted co-offensive line coach, Josh Henson, as the new OC. Don’t expect much change in the Missouri offense which was ranked 96th by the NCAA at the end of the season. Their rushing offense put them 88th nationally, just behind Kentucky. Their passing game ranked 76th. If our Cats are going to win an SEC game, this would be the one I pick because it is a home game and I believe our new staff will generate more improvement than the prospects for Missouri. So, we could be 4-5, 3-6 or 5-4 after this game, assuming we beat Alabama State.
Kentucky fans have a hard time coming to grips with the idea that Vanderbilt is no longer the bottom dweller in the SEC. What was once an assured SEC win has become two embarrassing losses the last two years. When I say embarrassing, I’m talking about the scores: A home loss (40-0) and a 2011 loss in Nashville (38-8). They’ve also completely waxed us in recruiting since James Fanklin became the coach. We play in Nashville again and there is a distinct difference in talent again. The optimist will still count this as a win giving us a 6-4 record. The pessimists will count it as 2-8. I say we’ll be 4-6 with 6-6 a remote possibility.
Our next to the game is a road trip to meet the Fighting Ugas. The Dawgs will still be in the hunt for the SEC-E title and Kentucky will make or break that effort, I believe, depending upon how Georgia does against Florida in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Either way, I just can’t bring myself to see a victory for the Cats. We know what the pessimists believe. The optimists will say a win. I say we’ll be 4-7.
The final game is in Lexington. Kentucky, in my opinion, is going to better than last year, but so is Tennessee. They have a good coaching staff., but Jones will not have them back in the mix his first year. They won five games last year with their only SEC win coming against Kentucky 37-17. That’s how bad we were last year. The optimists say this is a win as always. I don’t think we will have improved that much because there is still a difference in talent level. It doesn’t matter what the pessimists or optimists say, I’m going to have to go with a win for Rocky Top ending our season with a 4-8 record and another season without a bowl game, however minor.
4-8 is an improvement over 2-10, but I’m looking for improvement on the field where it may not translate into wins. The improvement I’m looking for will be in the level of play, recognizing we haven’t built up the talent and depth yet.
I say we will be better next year when we will have a team with some experience under the new staff. If you’re looking for immediate results, I think you’ll be disappointed with the win-loss record. If you’re going to look for statistical improvement, then I think you’ll be satisfied, if not pleased.
Paul "Bear" Bryant once said that statistics are for losers. That may be true in a particular game, but we’re looking for improvement over a season. I think everyone has to remember just how bad we’ve been over the last two years and realize that Mark Stoops and his staff have a mountain to climb.
Here’s what my experience with UK Football tells me: The optimists will be optimistic no matter what and the pessimists will be pessimistic no matter what. Me? I say the optimists practice Pollyannaism and the pessimists just enjoy being miserable for the sake of being miserable.
Personally, I’m a realist. Professionally, I was a Quality Manager before I retired. I look at processes and measure the effectiveness of the processes. That’s why I will be concentrating on statistical improvement with a critical eye over the course of the season.
How will you look at the upcoming season?