In my preseason look at the Kentucky Wildcats 2017 season, I had them off to a 6-0 start, which raised some eyebrows.
The Cats have come back down to earth the past two weeks, with tough losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee. In game nine, Kentucky sees their preseason goal of winning the SEC East slipping away, but the perfect opponent comes to town in the beleaguered Ole Miss Rebels.
The past year has been a nightmare for the folks in Oxford. After being ranked at #11 in the preseason last year, the Rebels stumbled to a 5-7 mark. The off-field drama was even worse as the team is still embroiled in an ongoing NCAA investigation.
The school self-imposed a bowl ban for this season and to top it all off, Hugh Freeze suddenly resigned recently, leaving Matt Luke to guide the team through the upcoming tumultuous season.
What can we expect from the Rebels in 2017?
For starters, the offense is going to be pretty darn good. Shea Patterson saw action in the three games after Chad Kelly was lost for the year and was pretty impressive, passing for 880 yards and 6 TDs. He had 338 yards versus Texas A&M in his first game as a starter but was plagued by drops by his targets. He completed just 54.5% of his passes but looks to be the real deal. He was the top QB of the 2016 class.
Van Jefferson is the most experienced receiver returning and he was good for 49 catches and 543 yards and 3 TDs. Big things are expected from AJ Brown and DK Metcalf. Brown had 412 yards last year, while Metcalf was getting most of the spring buzz. DaMarkus Lodge had 3 TDs last season and he will figure in the rotation. There is potential here but there is also a lot of talent that went to the NFL that needs to be replaced.
The same situation applies at the running back position. Senior Eugene Brazley is the most experienced of the lot, but he has just 109 career carries for 611 yards. Like Kelly, Patterson likes to run as well and had 169 yards on the ground in his three starts.
Eric Swinney missed last season but was a top 15 running back in his class. The line looks to be solid with four returning starters so whoever ends up with the tailback job will have a solid line.
The defense was horrid last season, and new defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff has installed a 4-3 defense. The strength of this defense may be the line as Marquis Haynes returns and he will wreck havoc. The key to the line may be if Breeland Speaks bounces back.
The defensive backfield should be solid with sophomore Myles Hartsfield and Ken Webster making up a solid cornerbacks unit. The question mark will be the linebacking corps which is made up of basically the same group that disappointed from last year. Rebels fans are hoping that another year of experience equals improvement and senior DeMarquis Gates the best player in this unit.
While the talent is there on this team, there are lingering questions at almost every position. You just have to wonder how much the current NCAA investigation is going to affect the morale of this team.
It should be a battered team that rolls into Kroger Field as they will have played Alabama. Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas in four of the five previous games with Vandy being the other team.
The Rebels should be beaten up physically at that point and with no bowl game, they could be a team without anything to play for. Kentucky, on the other hand, should still be in the position to get a prime bowl and they will need to win this game.
The Cats will be up to the challenge and will win this one, 31-17.