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Music City Bowl: Kentucky vs. FSU -- Adversary Analysis

The Music City Bowl -- a reward for a season of ups and downs, happiness and frustration, but overall an outstanding achievement, and our second bowl in a row.  Despite our difficulties on the hardwood, the Kentucky football team has proven worthy of SEC membership this year, including a victory over LSU, one of the two competitors for the BCS championship.

Kentucky matches up against Florida State University, a true blueblood of college football.  Much like UK in basketball, FSU has a long, proud and distinguished history as one of the premiere programs in college football, and has the legendary Bobby Bowden as its head coach.  All Bowden has done at FSU since he took over for John Mudra in 1976 is win 2 national championships, finish in the top five in the AP poll 15 times, and take the Seminoles in 28 post-season bowls, winning 19 of them.  Two Heisman winners, two Lombardi winners, two Butkus winners ... I could go on, but you get the idea.

However, Florida State has fallen on hard times lately, once again reflecting a similarity with our basketball program.  FSU has not seen the top ten in the final AP poll since 2000, and this year brings news of mass suspensions of players due to an academic cheating scandal.  That is very unfortunate for the 'Noles, but just as unfortunate for the Cats -- instead of an opportunity to make school history by defeating one of the truly great national programs on the gridiron, playing Florida State this wounded will be portrayed as insignificant if Kentucky wins, and catastrophic if they lose.

But the Cats aren't worried about that, nor should they be.  Their second trip to the Music City Bowl will be a celebration of Kentucky's wonderful senior class, players that have been largely responsible for the rise of the Wildcat football program from the sadness and futility of the post-Mumme era of sanctions and probation.  Kentucky football is relevant again for two years in a row, and that is an accomplishment to be celebrated.

The Music City Bowl also carries with it a financial reward of $1,600,000 per team.  That is a fine payday for the football program, and will help Kentucky improve their facilities and ultimately, attract better recruits.  What Rich Brooks has accomplished with this group is remarkable, not just for the number of wins, but for bringing a culture of success to the Kentucky football program.  When these two worthies take the field on Monday, Kentucky's program may not compare favorably to that of Florida State, but one thing will come through loud and clear -- Kentucky is a program on the rise.

With all that said, let's look at the tale that statistics tell:

Statistic UK OPP DIFF FSU OPP DIFF FSU - UK OPP DIFF DIFF DIFF
Pts / G 36.7 29.8 6.9 22.9 21.9 1 -13.8 7.9 -5.9
Yds / G 438.6 390.3 48.3 360 350.4 9.6 -78.6 39.9 -38.7
Rushing Yds / G 156.5 190 -33.5 121.1 114.4 6.7 -35.4 75.6 40.2
Passing Yds / G 282.1 200.2 81.9 238.9 236 2.9 -43.2 -35.8 -79
Yds / Play 5.7 5.3 0.4 5.2 5.1 0.2 -0.5 0.2 -0.2
Rushing Yds / Car 4.2 4.5 -0.3 3.5 3.3 0.2 -0.7 1.2 0.5
Passing Yds / Att 7.1 6.3 0.8 6.9 6.8 0.1 -0.2 -0.5 -0.7
Passing Yds / Cmp 11.3 11.2 0.1 12.3 12.2 0 1 -1 -0.1
Passing Cmp % 62.6 56.2 6.4 56.2 56 0.2 -6.4 0.2 -6.2
Punt Return Avg 7.5 5.3 2.1 10.7 6.5 4.2 3.2 -1.2 2.1
Yds / 7 Pts 83.7 91.8 8.1 110 111.9 2 -26.3 20.1 -6.1
Plays / 7 Pts 14.7 17.5 2.7 21.1 22.1 1 -6.4 4.6 -1.7
Rushing Play % 48.4 57.2 -8.8 49.8 50.2 -0.4 1.4 7 8.4
Passing Play % 51.6 42.8 8.8 50.2 49.8 0.4 -1.4 -7 -8.4
Turnovers / G 2 2.1 0.1 1.7 2 0.3 0.3 -0.1 0.2
Fumbles / G 1.1 0.8 -0.2 1 0.7 -0.3 0.1 -0.1 -0.1
Intercept / G 0.9 1.2 0.3 0.7 1.3 0.7 0.2 0.1 0.4
Turnover % 2.6 2.8 0.2 2.4 2.9 0.5 0.2 0.1 0.3
Fumble % 2.9 2 -0.9 2.9 1.9 -1 0 -0.1 -0.1
Intercept % 2.3 3.9 1.6 1.9 3.9 1.9 0.4 0 0.3


It's been a while, so I'll remind you what the colors indicate -- the green indicates a UK advantage, and the yellow indicates an FSU advantage.  Please note that these comparisons do not include the consequences of the suspensions, which have hit the defense the hardest, and the defensive line in particular.

Offense

Statistically, Kentucky is clearly the better offensive team, leading in virtually every category.  The Wildcat's passing game is the most significant advantage UK has offensively, but Kentucky also has an advantage over the ground as well.  Kentucky also grades out ahead in pass completion percentage and travels a shorter distance per seven points.

The Seminoles' offense has been rather anemic this year, especially over the ground.  There has been a quarterback controversy, former starter Xavier Lee being replaced midseason by Drew Weatherford.  But they are still quite dangerous, and multi-purpose threat Preston Parker, who sometimes lines up at WR and sometimes in the backfield, can both run and catch.  He is somewhat reminiscent of Florida's Percy Harvin, who had 97 all-purpose yards and a touchdown against Kentucky.

Florida State's offensive line was hit hard by the suspensions, including starting tackle Daron Rose and starting guard Jacky Claude.  Depth at tight end was also significantly reduced. Wide receiver Joslin Shaw will also not make the trip, and is a key component of the offense.  Advantage:  Kentucky

Defense

The 'Noles are a much better defensive team than Kentucky, 31st in the nation in scoring defense vs. UK's 80th nationally.  When Kentucky has faced strong defenses this year, it has generally fared poorly.  But in the latter half of the season, injuries prevented the offense from pulling out all the stops, and with the possible exception of Keenan Burton, we should be 100% offensively.

The same cannot be said of Florida state, however. Budd Thacker, Letroy Guion, Neefy Moffett, Justin Mincey and Paul Griffin, all starters at some time during the year or key backups will be absent from the defensive line.  Other important absences will be Patrick Robinson, the team-leader in interceptions, and cornerback J.R. Bryant.  Advantage:  Even

Special teams and turnovers

Kentucky is a better kickoff return team, while Florida State covers kickoffs better.  Florida State is a very good punt return team, but Kentucky is better at punt coverage.  Florida State turns the ball over less, but forces fewer fumbles than UK.  FSU throws fewer interceptions, but both teams force about the same number.  Advantage:  Florida State

Intangibles and Injuries

The intangibles favor Kentucky.  The Seminoles are reeling with an academic scandal and the retirement after next year of Bobby Bowden.  FSU was surely hoping for a better bowl spot than this, but this whole year for them has been a disappointment.  Kentucky has no such difficulties and even though the Cats may not have Burton and won't have outstanding freshman Derrick Locke, they are otherwise healthy and playing close to home in front of a lot of home fans.  Advantage:  Kentucky

Overall

These two teams would be pretty even if all things were equal, but they aren't.  The morale for FSU has to be suffering due to the academic problem which will affect them not only this year, but next.  Kentucky has the added advantage of having most of their starters healthy and playing very close to home.  But the Seminoles are still a dangerous team in spite of their troubles, and one look at their recruiting would tell you why.  Where Kentucky gets largely 3-star recruits as its mainstay these days, Florida State's run of the mill recruits have an extra star beside their name, plus a sprinkling of 5-star program changers.

No matter who FSU puts on the field, they will have had more recruiting attention than any of Kentucky's players while in high school except for one or two.  FSU is loaded with talent, but much of it is young and not yet ready for this level of competition.  No matter how ready they are, a good many will be pressed into duty for the MCB.

My prediction:  Kentucky, 30, Florida State 20.