To this point in the season the F/+, S&P+ and FEI ratings we've used to preview Kentucky football games have incorporated preseason data, and have gotten pretty close at predicting the outcomes of UK's games. South Carolina was essentially a toss-up that UK won in classic "toss-up" fashion. UK played Florida much closer than the 7-14 points the model figured, but that was only after two games of UK data and one game of data for Florida. Not too bad.
Using play-by-play (and drive-by-drive) data adjusted for garbage time, pace, and opponent strength, this system can show what leads teams to succeed and fail. The answers for UK's improvement rest on the shoulders of above average defense and special teams, and an offense noticeably less odious from the 2013 iteration.
|Unit||Current 2014 F/+ Ranking|
Here's what UK's final rankings from the 2013 season look like if you can stomach it. The improvement is immediately noticeable across the board...oh whoa wait! The offense is ranked lower this season than it was last season? The explanation is probably one that UK fans, along with media and hardcore college football fans, can probably explain.
UK hasn't made a concerted effort to blow out it's weakest opponents this season. In times of domination this season, back-ups find plenty of playing time, "NASCAR" mode is placed back in the toy box, and BBN learns to love the run game. Additionally, UK has only played one defense (Florida's) which has an above average rating hurting the offensive ratings. Those two factors combined probably are artificially skewing this rating. Our collective eye test tells us this offense, while still having flaws, is much better than last season.
We've spent a lot of time talking about the factors that have led to the defense's improvement here, but not a lot has been said of the special teams to date. Craig Naivar has done an excellent job with his unit. The coverage teams haven't allowed a major return yet, while the return teams can be counted on to deliver a big return once a game to this point. A better class of recruited and developed athlete now plays on special teams with pride and it shows. Meanwhile, Landon Foster has reclaimed his freshman year abilities, and redshirt freshman kicker Austin MacGinnis has kicked well despite being asked to make several beyond 40 yards.
|Team||F/+ Overall||F/+ Offense||F/+ Defense||F/+ Special Teams|
According to these rankings, UK's current overall ranking of 59th is lower than any of its upcoming opponents. Even if that doesn't change, but I suspect it will at least slightly, UK should reasonably be expected to have competitive games with most of its opponents given some of the offensive ratings on the horizon. UK's special teams would rank second among its opponents too.
Notably, UK's offense will have the opportunity to prove if it actually is better when it faces four Top 15 defenses in the weeks ahead. The Wildcats' 52nd defense will be probably only be severely challenged by LSU, Mississippi State, and Georgia.
I see reasons for optimism in the weeks ahead. Your thoughts?