One of the highest regarded college football prognosticators is Phil Steele. He has published his college football preview magazine since 1995, and his magazine is considered to have the most accurate predictions. His 2014 preview became available this week, and it was interesting what he had to say about Kentucky football and its opponents. It's worth picking up the magazine either in hard copy or via iTunes for specific details. What follows is a broad overview of his work.
Steele expects the offense and defense to be improved. The return of 70% of letterman along with a second year in the schemes will help. Play at all positions should be improved even along the defensive line and linebacker which lost its starters. Steele expects a big boost in the secondary's performance, and is also bullish on the offensive line and receiver corps' prospects. Overall, Steele believes UK is trending upwards and will end its 16 game SEC losing streak.
I agree with a lot of this, and kudo's for Steele to be able to go into minute detail. That he does this with every team is impressive; however, I'm not sure I'm as comfortable with the interior of the defense as he's projecting with its combination of youth and spring game performance. I also would have given the running backs more credit than the receivers, though both should be moderately improved. The secondary will likely be much improved this season. Last year saw the squad only hauled in a single interception which is inexcusable, but I think this year that figure will be closer to ten.
A point Steele brings up, which we've brought up before, is the defense and offense took a step back last year compared to 2012. It's somewhat of a mystery as to why that occured defensively with so many starters returning. Whether it was learning a new scheme, bad breaks, or monkeypox, it was bad enough that this year expectations are very low. How would slight improvements influence our perceptions?
Other tidbits: UK has the 15th toughest schedule, Kentucky's pass offense is projected to be the most improved in the country, UK's incoming freshmen class was ranked 21st (several making it on Steele's Top 500 Freshmen ranking), and Bud Dupree, Darrian Miller, Za'Darius Smith, and Demarco Robinson all made his preseason SEC teams. I do think Miller will end up higher than fourth team by the end of the year, and while it would be great, I don't see Robinson making any of these teams.
Below is a chart that over-generalizes UK's upcoming opponents based off a few of Steele's metrics. UK is at the bottom for comparison's sake.
|Opponent||Trending||Returning Letterman (%)||Power Ratings|
Steele's reports further reinforced my thoughts that an upset against Mississippi State, Louisville, or Missouri this season is a reach. Crazier things have happened on "any given Saturday", of course, but fan expectations should be tempered. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt's loss of Jordan Matthews and four other all-conference players, coupled with Steele's preseason thoughts, makes them seem ever more vulnerable to a loss in Lexington.
UK must double its win total from last season. Do that and recruiting momentum should continue for the 2015 Class, at which point the program's talent will have been upgraded over three classes. An inchoate SEC competitor may well emerge by 2015. UK just needs to continue to build one season, and one recruiting class at at time, in the interim.