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Kentucky Football: ESPN projects SEC East standings

Phil Steele is not high on this year’s Wildcats.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has had itself in the conversation for the SEC East title in the midst of the last two seasons. Though they sputtered late in each year, they were still around that top-three discussion (or even in first).

ESPN’s Phil Steele doesn’t expect that to be the case this year, as the ESPN Insider has predicted that Kentucky will finish fifth in the East Division this year.

Rich Brooks got Kentucky to a bowl each of his last four years as they beat the teams they were favored against and pulled one or two upsets each year. Mark Stoops has three non-bowl years, although Kentucky got back to that bowl-game formula with three upsets in ‘16 and two more last year. The defense’s top three players turned down the NFL and the offense has running back Benny Snell and a veteran offensive line. The Wildcats may be favored in only four games and they dropped to No. 99 on my experience chart, but they have the benefit of two years of bowl practices.

As an aside, can we stop comparing Mark Stoops to Rich Brooks?

Anyway, favoring the Kentucky Wildcats in only four games is heavily discounting the experience that Kentucky will return in the form of all their best defenders (like Mike Edwards and Josh Allen).

The East may be due for a resurgence in 2018, as the Florida Gators now have Dan Mullen at the helm, Will Muschamp had a weak South Carolina Gamecocks team last year and the Missouri Tigers are returning Drew Lock.

Plus, well, the Georgia Bulldogs are the Georgia Bulldogs.

But with all that being said, Kentucky seems likely to be better this year than last. The Wildcats will return a good deal of their impact players from last year and are likely to get an upgrade at quarterback via the winner of the Terry Wilson vs. Gunnar Hoak quarterback battle.

Where do you think Kentucky will finish in the SEC East this season?