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Kentucky Football Season Preview Roundtable and Predictions

How will the Wildcats follow a 10-win season?

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Finally, college football is back!

The Kentucky Wildcats are coming off of a historic season, winning 10 games and finishing the season with a Citrus Bowl victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions. So how does a team that has always been in the middle to lower tier of the SEC respond to so much success?

After losing UK legends Josh Allen and Benny Snell, in addition to most of the experienced defensive backs, the Wildcats will be looking to new leaders to step up. Will Terry Wilson, Lynn Bowden, AJ Rose, and Kash Daniel be able to grow into the leaders this team needs?

The bar for this season varies depending on who you talk to. Since Mark Stoops arrived, Kentucky has won as many or more games each year than they had the previous season. Are fans expecting that trend to continue? Or is getting to a bowl still the goal?

The staff at A Sea of Blue have dusted off the football round table to take a look at their expectations for a Kentucky program that is trying to establish itself as a consistent contender in the SEC East.

Jamie Boggs

Each season that Mark Stoops has been at Kentucky, the Wildcats have matched or exceeded the previous year’s win total. This year, unfortunately, will be the end of that trend.

Winning 10 games last season was very impressive, and it was a lot of fun. But with losing Benny Snell, Josh Allen, and more importantly most of the secondary, I think the team (not the program) has to take a step back. Do not get me wrong: this program is still on the rise, and the 2020 recruiting class is proof of that.

For this season, however, fans need to temper expectations and be satisfied with a bowl appearance and a good showing against some tough teams.

Wins: Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Martin, Louisville, then either Mississippi State or South Carolina (I think they split those).

Losses: Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, and either Mississippi State or South Carolina.

Prediction: 7-5

Beau Yeiser

For me, time flew by this year since the Cats take down of Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. I said numerous times I can’t believe how fast the 2019 season is approaching. I said all that before the calendar turned August. This month has been torture. Time has slowed to a drunken tortoise stupor. I am starved for the follow-up encore to the magical 2018 football season.

I have a pretty good feeling about this season. That general feeling can be summed up in a few different ways.

First, I’ve been conditioned to believe that to be successful in the SEC you must be good in the trenches.

Guess what? Kentucky is pretty good in the trenches.

Both the offensive line and defensive line are strengths of the football team, with a nice blend of talent, experience and depth. The offensive line has been winning the battle more often than not the past few seasons, so why would I not expect more of that with 5-star Landon Young, preseason all-SEC choices Logan Stenberg and Drake Jackson, and rising star Darian Kinnard anchoring the line? The rotation on the offensive line goes 8 or 9 deep.

The defensive line is stout, with quality backups to boot. If the hype around T.J. Carter this fall camp is real, look out! The Wildcats are good up front, and that can only be a good thing. Not many SEC teams can say they have what UK has on both the lines.

Second, not only does Kentucky have capable coaches, but Mark Stoops is keeping them together. Continuity is a huge deal. Eddie Gran considered an opportunity with Georgia, but he is back to call plays for the Big Blue. Marrow is still here as the recruiting ace. Schlarman is still a beast offensive line coach. LeBlanc is anchoring the defensive side of the line. Dean Hood. And so on.

Matt House departed for the Kansas City Chiefs, but Stoops promoted Brad White to defensive coordinator from within the program. Stoops has built a winning program that is stable, and that stability is important to future success. Coaches and consistent messages breed consistent results on the field. The program is more stable than ever with this lack of turnover in coaches and with this current crop of players.

Third, I think the competent defensive line, coupled with the extremely talented and versatile linebacking corps, has the ability to attack and keep offenses off-balance for the most part, giving the very inexperienced secondary more time to grow up. If you are young on the back end, it is nice to be good in the front seven, which I believe Kentucky is and they will show it.

I like the off-season chip-on-the-shoulder swag from Stoops and the staff. Stoops pretty much tells it like it is, and you can see he thinks his team is being under-appreciated again, like last season.

Predicting the season record starts with looking at the four non-conference games. Toledo is a really good MAC program. They have recruited the most talent over the last four years in the MAC and have a great offense that scored a lot of points last year. Their QB’s, RB and a few OL are back again this year.

I expect a win, but I think this will be a close game that is a little nerve-wracking. I think the Cats will take care of business versus Eastern Michigan, UT Martin, and Louisville. That is four wins and 4-0 against the non-conference slate.

So what about the SEC schedule?

I just think in terms of general program well-being, Kentucky has grown a program. The Wildcats has winners on the football team. I do not think they are going to go undefeated or beat Georgia, but I darn sure do not think that it is a team that will regress from 10 wins to six. I think there are so many toss-up games between Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee, and yes, Vandy. I mean, can we not expect with confident coaches, confident players, experienced and talented lines, Lynn Bowden, a second-year QB showing positive growth signs and owning gazelle legs….can we not think that going 4-4 in the SEC after going 5-3 last year is doable? I believe it is.

My prediction is 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the SEC. I’d go one game better if I knew the receiving corps was going to be relevant (as a whole), and I would go two games better if I knew the secondary would not have some growing pains.

Let’s hope I am being conservative here and the receivers and secondary rise up to the occasion.

Adam Haste

The Kentucky football team has a ton of momentum around the program and they are fresh off a 10-win season.

I am looking forward to seeing what the offense can do this season. Terry Wilson is in his second year in this system and is more comfortable with the speed of SEC football. I think we are going to see a much more explosive offense this season with a lot of big plays through the air.

An area of concern would have to be the secondary. The Wildcats lost nearly every starter from a year ago and are replacing them with young, inexperienced, and unproven talent. So, it will be interesting to see if they can step up this year and make big plays when the defense needs them to.

As for the schedule, the only game that I do not see the Cats having a real chance to win is at Georgia. Other than that, I think the Cats have a legit shot in every other game on the schedule.

Prediction: 9-3

Greg Goins

There’s no denying that Coach Mark Stoops has delivered on his promise to move Kentucky football into the national spotlight after a historic run in 2018 that saw Josh Allen and Bennie Snell emerge as once-in-a-lifetime icons that captured the hearts of Big Blue Nation. But many pundits see UK’s recent success on the gridiron as a different kind of “one-and-done” as the Cats did not receive a single vote in the preseason Top 25 polls and have been picked to finish toward the bottom of the SEC East this season. So what gives?

Many of the naysayers are undoubtedly looking at the offensive side of the ball where the Wildcats attempted the fewest passes in the SEC (296), had the fewest passing touchdowns (14) and finished last in passing yards per game (161.5). It’s no secret that quarterback Terry Wilson struggled at times last season in a run-first offense that was ultra-conservative under Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran.

UK’s greatest offensive weapon this season just might be Lynn Bowden, who caught 67 passes for 745 yards and five touchdowns last season. But Bowden (and receivers Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps) can’t get into the end zone without the ball and short, lateral passes behind the line of scrimmage just won’t get it done this year as “Touchdown Terry” has to throw the ball down field with confidence. In the backfield, A.J. Rose is expected to pick up much of Snell’s workload and be sure to keep a close eye on Kavosiey Smoke, who has the speed and athleticism for a breakout season. When things get tough, Stoops likes to stick to the run game so it will be interesting to see how the offense adjusts if Wilson struggles with timing and accuracy in the season opener.

Defensively, Kash Daniel will lead a solid group of linebackers that will get a huge emotional boost with the return of Josh Paschal who missed all of last season with cancer treatment. However, getting pressure up front with be critical as an untested group of defensive backs may struggle early as Toledo and Eastern Michigan are expected to air it out at Kroger Field.

Despite some good vibes from 2018, the Wildcats are once again in a tough spot with a daunting schedule that reflects why the SEC is arguably the nation’s best football conference. No. 8 Florida comes to Kroger Field on September 14th and the Cats play at No. 3-ranked Georgia on October 19th. In the end, the Cats should eclipse the eight win mark, beat Louisville to close the regular season and prepare for another Bowl Game. The bad news is that a .500 conference record also looks like a real possibility.

Record: 8-4

Zac Oakes

In a year where many folks nationally think Kentucky will take a major step back, the Cats have an opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong.

Despite major losses at multiple positions, Kentucky returns a lot of talent from last year’s 10-win squad that should provide a solid foundation for the 2019 season.

Players like Terry Wilson, Lynn Bowden, Drake Jackson, Quinton Bohanna, and Kash Daniel were key contributors to last year’s team that should be able to provide talent and experience around a group of relative newcomers.

Looking at the schedule, I am picking Kentucky to win eight regular season games with the chance at a ninth win in a notable bowl game. The schedule sets up favorably for Kentucky, both in the non-conference and in SEC play. The only game I see where Kentucky will be a major underdog is at Georgia, but in the other 11 I expect a victory to be in play.

It should be another solid year for the Cats.

Aaron Gershon

Coming off a historic 10-3 season, no one believes the Kentucky Wildcats can repeat their success from 2018.

In all fairness, the team has lost a large portion of their defense that ranked sixth-best in the nation a year ago and lost star running back Benny Snell on the offensive side of the ball.

However, when looking at the 2019 roster, there is still a lot to like. On the offensive side of the ball, nearly the entire offensive line is filled with potential All-SEC talent, Lynn Bowden is entering his junior season coming off a breakout sophomore year, and Terry Wilson has looked much improved in camp this summer.

Defensively, the front seven should be stingy despite losing Josh Allen, but the question marks are going to be in the secondary. There is little to no experience left on the roster after the departure of Mike Edwards, Darius West, Lonnie Johnson, and Derrick Baity along with the season-ending injury to Davonte Robinson.

Despite having plenty of talent remaining on the roster, it is hard to see Kentucky winning 10 games again in 2019. Younger players are going to need time to develop. Keep in mind the Allen, Baity, Edwards defense did not breakout until each was a senior. Thus, expect this year to be a bit of a developmental one for the defense.

All in all, I see Kentucky winning all of their non-conference games but falling in conference play to Florida, Mississippi State, Georgia, and Missouri which would put them at 8-4 on the season and still send them to a quality bowl game.

Prediction: 8-4; Bowl Game: Belk Bowl vs. Syracuse

James Streble

Once again the Cats feel they are being disrespected by college football analysts. Even though they finished last season 10-3, they do not appear in many preseason top 25 polls and they are not getting much respect in the SEC as they were picked to finish ahead of only Vanderbilt. Per his usual method, Mark Stoops has chiseled a sizeable chip onto his shoulder and he expects the rest of the team to do the same.

I think there are a number of reasons to believe in the Cats this season. I understand that Benny Snell and Josh Allen are gone, along with the entire secondary. But at some point we have to believe that the guys that Stoops and Vince Marrow have recruited may not be better than those folks, but they can still be good.

I also do not think people are talking enough about what the team has coming back. Terry Wilson is back for his second season and one would expect him to make a jump after his first stint in major college football. The offensive line actually may be better than last season. The defensive line is better than last season. The linebacker corps is deeper than last season. Lynn Bowden is set to become a superstar in the SEC, and the running back corps is legitimately dangerous.

The schedule is also very favorable towards the Cats. Did anyone watch Florida last Saturday and feel like they were a team that Kentucky can’t beat? Absolutely not.

As long as the coaching staff were able to do their job during fall camp, then there should not be this massive drop-off that many are expecting.

If the Cats go less than 8-4 with this schedule and all of the returning players, then I’ll be disappointed. Mark Stoops does not want excuses, so let’s stop coming up with them.

Prediction: 8-4

Nick Wheatley

Marks Stoops and Co. are ready to sustain the success the Cats achieved last season. Stoops didn’t build one good team. He built a program, and this season will be indicative of that.

While I don’t expect the defense to be as good as it was last year, I do believe this front seven might be one of the best UK has ever had. Not only are they talented, but they’re deep. There are SEC-caliber players at least two-deep across the front seven.

However, the secondary will be a major concern. I don’t think it’ll be as bad as most, but it’ll be a significant drop off from last season. The defensive backs are going to need that stout front seven to wreak havoc in order to make things work.

As for the offense, the departure of Benny hurts, but other than that, it should be improved. I expect a significant step forward from Terry Wilson, and that’s important because this team’s success could be predicated on that. The wide receiver group makes me nervous outside of Lynn Bowden, though, and they’re going to need someone to step up.

As for the running backs, it’s going to exciting. The trio of AJ Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, and Chris Rodriguez is one heck of a three-headed monster. They’re going to be fun to watch this year.

All in all, I’m confident in what the Cats can do this season. I truly believe every single game on the schedule is winnable outside of Georgia. But games like Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Missouri, and Tennessee are all toss-ups for me. On the other hand, Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Arkansas, Vandy, UT Martin, and Louisville are all locks for Ws.

Outside of my locks (and unwinnable game), I’ll say Kentucky beats South Carolina and Missouri, and falls to Florida, Mississippi State, and Tennessee.

While I wouldn’t be shocked to see Kentucky go 7-5, I also wouldn’t be surprised if they won 9 or even 10. But I’m keeping my expectations in check. The Cats will finish the season 8-4 and win the Music City Bowl to push them to 9 wins.

Prediction: 9-4