If summer BBN blogging were a road, it's been paved by the predictions -- later proven false -- that UK will beat Florida come the fall. It just so happens there's a bit more credence than usual, and this year will very likely be UK's best chance of beating Florida since ESPN College Gameday visited campus in 2007. KSR covered this territory over the weekend (h/t Wild Weasel), and while their post mostly focuses on some near misses and chest-thumping, it doesn't delve into specific reasons why the Gators will be vulnerable when they visit Lexington in September.
So let me try and prove the case isn't so Sisyphean; and maybe come September we won't have to throw my worthless summer-time prognostication atop the asphalt with all the others that came before.
Roster and Coaching History
So you can end up with a team full of highly rated classes that is fatally thin at multiple positions. Which is what McElwain now has.
— David Wunderlich (@Year2) March 28, 2015
Will Muschamp's management of UF's roster would induce PTSD for UK fans familiar with the practices under Joker Phillips. He recruited strongly, during his tenure, but that's suppose to happen at Florida. His roster failings, from this outsider's perspective, were largely the product of poor player development (except for Mike Summers doing work with the offensive line), and a lot of that can be contributed to the legion of various offensive coaches who came and went in Gainesville. Looking at the 2012-2014 signing classes, individuals who will comprise UF's upperclassmen this coming season, provides further points worth raising:
Muschamp signed fairly balanced classes in terms of the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, per Rivals (caveat: position in recruiting databases isn't always the same in college and this doesn't encapsulate transfers). However, further scrutiny of the offensive side of the ball presents some issues without even taking into account attrition.
Four scholarship running backs in three signing classes is low, and fourteen receivers or tight ends is a high number to only have Demarcus Robinson as a legitimate outside threat to date. Kentucky signed 15 WR/TE's in the last three seasons, and arguably has more play-makers despite the lower star rankings by comparison. On the defensive side of the ball, the lack of linebackers also seems low, and may have resulted in position changes which can work out any number of ways.
It's difficult to know how seriously to take these numbers as an outsider. How likely is it that positional disparities from previous classes will impact the 2015 season? It just so happens that new UF coach Jim McElwain confirmed this spring that there's a "lack of numbers and size", and Alligator Army's spring scrimmage recap highlights the lack of depth along the offensive line. The offense is sounding like it'll have issues.
Furthermore, Gator speculation suggests freshman Will Grier will be named the starter at quarterback, and his first road game will be when he travels to Lexington. CWS won't make anyone's top ten list for most hostile environment, but a thin offense early in the season on the road with a freshman quarterback has been known to struggle in the history of college football writ large.
McElwain himself returns to the SEC after serving as Colorado State's head coach. The KSR post dismisses McElwain because of his former job but that's a mistake. In three seasons he turned a moribund CSU program into a team that won 10 games in his final season, and he left with a 22-16 record. He was previously Nick Saban's offensive coordinator and has decades of college and NFL experience. He's known for player development. Nonetheless, the history of first year coaches in the SEC is not promising. McElwain's best is almost certainly yet to come, but September 2015 will be far closer to the nadir than the zenith.
To this point, the argument for a UK victory has largely rested on UF's perceived weaknesses. Another aspect that requires consideration is the presumed improvement of UK. I've previously written that I suspect the offense will be the team's strength this season. A probable returning starter at quarterback, three returning running backs, a finally healthy receiver corps, and four returning offensive linemen helps matters. What helps even more are some of the highest rated skill players UK has ever signed returning with 1-2 years of experience. All that with an offense that already averaged 30 points per game last season.
The defense probably won't be much better than average at the end of the season, in terms of advanced stats and SEC ranking. However, the defense does return 8 starters and there will probably be upperclassmen plugged into the openings. UK fans should want players with multiple years in Mark Stoops program starting instead of redshirt freshmen. In any case, if Florida's offense has the issues many partisans and non-partisans alike suspect early in the season, UK should at least be competitive on that side of the ball.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, UK's players took UF into triple overtime last season, and left The Swamp thinking there was no talent disparity between squads, and they should have won the game.UK coaches and players will absolutely expect to beat UF this year, and finish the job they nearly completed last season. If the Wildcats aren't an inspired bunch for their first SEC home game of the season, well, then we got a long season ahead of us BBN.
The Streak is The Streak for good reason. There have been numerous times in the last 15 years that UF was vulnerable and UK couldn't beat them. 2003 and 2013 were all years when UF had some serious vulnerabilities yet escaped CWS with a win. In short, just because UF may be down doesn't mean UK will win, according to recent history. UF will still have a roster comprised of four consecutive top ten signing classes, and superior athletic talent usually finds a way to win when execution is equal.
Additionally, UF's defense will likely prove competitive against UK's offense. Geoff Collins is the new defensive coordinator, and he inherits a defense that was ranked 21st in S&P+ in 2014. He gets six returning starters, including a secondary featuring NFL prospects Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor. The presence of that duo will take away from UK's aerial attack, and require the running game to be successful. Collins' arguably less talented defenses in 2013 and 2014 were well-regarded by the advanced stats, so one would naturally assume he'll do fine at UF in 2015. If the Gators can neutralize UK's offensive strengths, the question comes down to UK's defense winning the game. That's something that's yet to happen in Mark Stoops tenure.
UK should be on the upswing this season, and UF should be on the downswing -- at least early on when UF's offense is still gelling. That's a recipe for a solid, though not at all certain, chance at ending The Streak.