Football is on the horizon.
With the Kentucky Wildcats kicking off their season in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on Saturday, we gathered the staff for a roundtable where we offered up our predictions on the upcoming season.
Most project Kentucky with anywhere from 6-8 wins this season, while some very optimistic fans have projected nine wins for this team.
With several toss-up games on the schedule, this season has a ton of potential for the Wildcats, but also some heartbreak potential as well.
So here are our staff's thoughts on the 2017 Kentucky Football Season.
Is it "the year"? The year that Kentucky football takes the step from a promising team of hope to an SEC East Championship contender. Even win the SEC East. If there is a year, this should be the year. Florida is in disarray, Georgia has its flaws, and Tennessee is rebuilding. Kentucky, on the other hand, has the talent to compete with each of these teams. Coach Stoops has built a defense worthy of the SEC label. The offensive line is one of the best in recent memory, even after the Cole Mosier injury, and running behind that line is a workhorse running back worthy of an All-SEC Team selection.
I believe in Stephen Johnson at quarterback. He has the moxie and natural leadership that cannot be measured in arm strength or statistics. The win against Louisville last year was largely attributed to Johnson and rightfully so. He outdueled Jackson through the air, and still had over 80 yards on the ground. He gave us four SEC wins as well.
Even with all of that, and as much as I love Kentucky football, I cannot get behind winning the SEC East this year. I don’t think there will be in shocking losses (Southern Miss) or close calls against lesser opponents (EKU two years ago), yet I don’t see the wins that often escape us this year (Florida, Georgia). I can see winning against Tennessee, and even winning six (6!) SEC games. But there’s always a slip-up. Always. As a Kentucky fan, it’s just in me to not get my hopes up.
I see five guaranteed wins on the schedule, and three guaranteed losses. That leaves four toss-up games for the team to win. Is 9-3 crazy to think about? Maybe. But could this be the most fun (and best) team since 2007?
Last year, Kentucky finally got back in the bowl business after finishing 7-5 and exceeding everyone's expectations. Of course, everyone is looking for Mark Stoops and the Wildcats to take the next step forward this season and compete with the top dogs in the SEC East.
While Kentucky's roster looks more like that of an SEC team than it has in a long time, there are still several questions to be answered. Who will be the permanent solution at quarterback? Will Benny Snell be able to further his success in the backfield? Will the defensive line be able to pull its own weight? Is Lynn Bowden really going to make a difference?
Some are projecting Kentucky as a dark horse contender to win the east, and several "experts" have mentioned 8 or 9 wins on the schedule. While I fully expect the Wildcats to go bowling again, I believe that may be a little too optimistic.
I see the season going down like this:
Wins: Southern Miss, EKU, Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Ole Miss, VanderbiltLosses: South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisville
Predicted Record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)
This season, it finally feels like the Kentucky Football program is on the edge of something great. With so many key returning players, it would be easy to feel good about the team even without all the new additions and improved players on the roster.
However, injuries to both Cole Mosier and Dorian Baker could have an impact, especially early in the season. Mosier is a veteran and was integral to the success of the offensive line last year. The offense looked dynamic in both passing and rushing by the end of last season, made possible by the great play of the o-line. Hopefully, Landon Young will step up and have a true breakout season at left tackle.
Despite spotty play from Dorian Baker last season, he blossomed into a guy who can make a big play when it counts. One incoming player who may have that quality is Lynn Bowden. Bowden is a highlight-reel player and may be who stands out with big-time plays next season.
My prediction is that the Football Cats win nine games this year. There are a lot of winnable games on the schedule, and all our toughest opponents will have to come to Lexington. This is probably the year we take out Florida as well. The Cats beat Louisville by two touchdowns.
John Morgan Francis
Kentucky Football. What better way to start my senior year at UK? How about a revenge win on the road? Or a Heisman Trophy for Benny Snell?
I’m not going to overhype this team for you. But I will assure you this team’s floor is 6-6 and its ceiling is indeed an 8-4 fairytale.
Kentucky will come out of the gate ready to stomp on Southern Miss. EKU is not easy but for the home opener this year, surely they’ll provide a different outcome than in 2016.
At 2-0, Kentucky travels to South Carolina where they actually win a road game they should.
This brings them to 3-0 and a contest at Common…. sorry, Kroger Field (sighs) against the rival Gators. You can save your money here, because I have them losing and you should too.
At 3-1 the Cats will take their following two games at home, topping both Eastern Michigan and Mizzou. And at 5-1, as they travel to Miss. St, they will take another road game of which they’re expected to win.
6-1 Wildcats? Who would’ve dreamed? (Besides every Kentucky fan since their first football game)
They may have dreamed of beating Tennessee at Com… sorry, Kroger Field, but that dream, I assure you, will be crushed. Butch is strapped to a seat heating up to 450 degrees and a loss at Kroger Field (groans) would follow with a boot out the door.
So at 6-2, the Cats rebound to 7-2 over Ole Miss. However, as they travel to Nashville, they’ll pick up a surprising loss and come back to Lexington 7-3.
With two games to go, the Cats will drop their road contest at Georgia but shock the world once more by taking down Louisville, this time in Lex.
Lamar Jackson may rush for 982 yards, but Benny Snell will rush for 983 and not throw interceptions or fumble the ball.
Sure, Kentucky could turn back time and become the mediocrity we used to know them to be. That’s why their floor is 6-6. But I’m tired of believing in that. I’m ready for steady progression. I’m ready for Kentucky Football.
Wins: Southern Miss, Eastern KY, South Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Louisville
Losses: Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia
I think I join most of the known sports world when I say that I am very excited for the start of college football this weekend; even more than that I’m actually excited for UK football this fall. The Wildcats are heading into the 2017 season with lots of expectations, and they seem to be on the cusp of fulfilling them this season.
After coming back from a disappointing start, Mark Stoops’ squad finished 7-5 with a bowl appearance and win over in-state rival Louisville. I see them improving that mark to 8-4, making a bowl appearance for the second straight year, and possibly threatening for the division title.
The team will again rely on last year’s strengths: a tough offensive line and a strong secondary. There are questions on that line with the loss of Cole Mosier to injury in camp, but I expect this deep, talented group to be near the top of the SEC again.
And the team needs that protection for Benny Snell and Stephen Johnson to be able to work. I’ll be interested to see how Snell handles being THE back in the backfield this season and if Johnson can avoid the turnovers he was prone to at times last season. One question mark on offense is in the receiving core.
At times in the past, the receivers have been streaky in terms of putting together good games, but there are some talented freshmen and some strong returners. Even though the loss of Dorian Baker hurts the receiving corps, I’m excited to see if freshmen Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, and Lynn Bowden live up to their hype from training camp.
On defense, the Wildcats are returning several starters in a secondary that racked up tackles. Jordan Jones and Mike Edwards look to lead a secondary that has added more depth and experience. It remains to be seen if the defensive line is able to be more effective at run stopping this season.
The good news on that front is the return of key starters like Denzil Ware, Naquez Pringle, and Josh Allen. These players helped to lead the pass rush last season and are hoping to improve this season.
If the freshmen on both sides can live up to the hype coming in and returning starters can build on their success from last season, these Wildcats could go far. Those are lots of if’s heading into a season, but I’m confident that the coaching staff and players can get the job done.
Wins: Southern Mississippi, Eastern Kentucky, South Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt
Losses: Florida, Mississippi State, Georgia, Louisville
At the beginning of last season, the feeling around the program was do or die. Mark Stoops was in his fourth season, and after two straight late season collapses, the fan base was getting restless. But thanks to Stephen Johnson, Boom Williams, Benny Snell, the offensive line, and Stoops taking over the defense, the Wildcats got over the hump. For the first time since Rich Brooks was the coach, Kentucky fans felt that the program was back on track.
The expectations this season are much different. Kentucky is being viewed as a darkhorse in the East along with South Carolina. At the very least, the Wildcats are expected to once again have a seven win season. Anything less than that will be met with disappointment especially since the bulk of the offense and defense are returning.
Kentucky has a great home schedule this season, and luckily most of the toughest games will be played at Kroger Field. Winning eight games is a possibility, but the 'Cats have a lot of history to overcome in order to reach that goal. Will they get there? Here is what I think:
UK at Southern Mississippi- This game is going to be a tough one to start the season. A road game against a team that won at your place last season. Luckily the Wildcats have the pieces in place and the offense that they want to run right off the bat. Southern Miss lost a significant number of contributors from last season, but Ito Smith will still test the defensive line. Win
UK vs. EKU- This game won't be the emotional affair it was two seasons ago when Kentucky had to eke out a win. I fully expect an easy victory at Kroger Field. Win
UK at South Carolina- This is one of the most intriguing games of the season. Both UK and USC were better than expected last season, and both are expected to improve. Kentucky has won the last three meetings against the Gamecocks. I still think Kentucky has the better players and the better coaches. Win, but it'll be close. VERY close.
UK vs. Florida- Florida is one of the favorites to win the East, along with Georgia, and they will have a new QB in Malik Zaire. Zaire is a five-star player that had some good moments at Notre Dame before he decided to transfer. The Gators are still going to have fantastic athletes all over the field. But this is a different Kentucky team than they saw last season in the Swamp. The Streak ends. Win
UK vs. Eastern Michigan- As long as the 'Cats don't have a letdown after the Florida win, this should be an easy one. Win
UK vs. Missouri- The Tigers are supposed to have one of the more potent offenses in the SEC. But the 'Cats ran wild over the Tigers last season in Columbia, and the personnel is still pretty much the same for both teams. I don't think Mizzou has improved that much. Win
UK at Mississippi State- Starkville is one of the toughest places to play in the SEC once those cowbells start clanging. The Bulldogs should be better than they were last season and the 'Cats only won by a field goal at home. Loss
UK vs. Tennessee- Beating both Tennessee and Florida in one season may be too much to ask for. I have to pick them to lose one of these games. Even though I expect the Volunteers to be worse than Florida, I don't think Kentucky can fight history that much. Loss
UK vs. Ole Miss- The Rebels (the Black Bears, whatever) are a complete trainwreck in the wake of Hugh Freeze. I don't expect their lame duck fill-in coach to rally the troops together for a winning season and all that talent that Freeze brought in (paid for) is pretty much gone. Win
UK at Vanderbilt- This is a tougher than you think game. Things against Derek Mason and the 'Dores haven't been easy for the 'Cats, even when Vandy was the inferior team. This is a game in which the defenses will tell the story, and Vandy usually has a damn good one. But in the end, I still think coaching and talent matters. Win
UK at Georgia- Easily the toughest game of the season. UGA still has a loaded backfield and a loaded offense. The defense should be good enough to win them some game as well. Loss
UK vs. Louisville- We did it before, and we can do it again. I know Lamar Jackson is great, but Stephen Johnson outplayed him last season at UofL. Their offensive line is still going to stink. They lost a lot, especially on defense, and have no running back to speak of. Win
Did I just pick Kentucky to go 9-3? Yes, I did. I'm drinking too much Kool-Aid.