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Kentucky Football season preview roundtable and predictions

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Breaking down the Cats’ 2020 campaign with predictions on how they’ll fare in a 10-game SEC schedule.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Game week is finally here for the Kentucky Wildcats, who kick off their 2020 season Saturday when they hit the road to face the Auburn Tigers.

With the new season upon us, we gathered our staff for a roundtable on Kentucky’s 2020 campaign, including predictions on the Cats’ record in what will be a 10-game, SEC-only schedule.

Samuel Hahn

The Kentucky Wildcats keep rising higher and higher every season. Coming into this year, having won the last four games of 2019, a surge of momentum and smashing success on the recruiting trail should make this season one of their finest, even if it is against all SEC opponents.

The Cats will play at Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, at Tennessee, Georgia, at Missouri, Vanderbilt, at Alabama, at Florida, and South Carolina (in that order) this season. Let’s take this one game at a time. Auburn is a toss-up, Ole Miss is a win, Mississippi State is a win, Tennessee is a toss-up, Georgia is a toss-up (yes, this is the year), Missouri is a win, Vanderbilt is a win, Alabama is a loss, Florida is a toss-up, and South Carolina is a win. That is five wins, one loss, and four games that can go either way, meaning the ceiling is very high this year.

Let us look at it one game at a time. With Terry Wilson back, Max Duffy back, the best D-lines and O-lines imaginable back, and Eddie Gran’s new Lynn Bowden-style playbook easily transferable to Terry’s legs, the Wildcats will defeat Auburn in the opener. Since they often start hot, they’ll beat Ole Miss and Mississippi State as well.

Facing Tennessee one week after the Volunteers play Georgia, they will either (a) beat them but not Georgia the week after, or (a) lose to them but beat Georgia. It is either the looking-ahead trap or the layoff trap. Then, at 4-1, they will squeak by Mizzou and destroy Vandy going into their game against Alabama.

Now, not a single CBS writer will agree with me, but Kentucky can beat Alabama. It’s 2020! There will be hardly any fans there! They did it in 1997 and they can do it again this year; all you need is a chance. Plus, the Tide will face the Cats only one week after playing at LSU! They could be hung over from a tight win over the defending champs, giving the Cats a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pull this off.

However, I think it is asking them too much to defeat the Tide and the Florida Gators. They will lose to one, beat South Carolina, and finish 8-2 with a shot at making the SEC Championship game depending on the Georgia result. As for a bowl, they have won two in a row and will make it three because they care more about bowl games than any other team in the country.

8-2 sounds crazy, but what is really crazy is how good this team is. Even if some games do not go their way, the Cats are going to make some special memories this year, whether in Knoxville or The Swamp or Athens or Tuscaloosa or all of them.

Like I said, it’s 2020!

Prediction: 8-2

Nick Wheatley

Mark Stoops has built a program that all Kentucky fans should be proud of, and this year should be the ultimate testament to that. The Cats are absolutely loaded and have arguably the best overall roster they have ever assembled. If this was a typical 12 game season, I’d be predicting Kentucky to win at least nine games, if not 10.

The defense is what Stoops has built his program around and that is no different this year. After having one of the best defenses in the country last season, UK returns basically everything. The entire secondary, which ranked first in the country in passing touchdowns allowed last year, minus Jordan Griffin is back. But they added Davonte Robinson and Kelvin Joseph to make make up for the loss.

DeAndre Square is ready for an All-SEC type season, and Boogie Watson is looking to make a Josh Allen-esque jump. Oh, and Quinton Bohanna and Marquan McCall are set to solidify themselves as NFL Draft picks.

On offense, Terry Wilson is back. The three-headed monster of AJ Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, and, my personal favorite, Chris Rodriguez are all back. The entire offensive line, which is maybe the best in the country, lost Logan Stenberg but returned everyone else. That includes two possible first-round draft picks in Darian Kinnard and Landon Young. The tight end group is set with three very solid options.

Finally, fan favorite Max Duffy is back to flip the field and maybe grab a couple first downs while he is at it. The only question marks on this team are wide receiver and Wilson’s hopefully healthy return.

I feel really, really good about this upcoming season. I think the Cats will definitely win games against Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. I think UK is better than both Auburn and Tennessee, but going on the road in the SEC is always hard. I am taking UK to knock off the Tigers, but I will never pick UK to beat UT until they show me they can do so more consistently.

Alabama and Georgia are probably lost causes, but the Cats should be able to keep it close, especially against the Bulldogs who have a significant question mark at QB.

And then there is Florida. The Gators are going to be a very good football team, but I do not buy all the Kyle Trask hype. I’ll take the Cats in a close one there.

Kentucky’s floor is probably 5-5, but I believe their ceiling is 8-2 if everything goes their way. So, I’m predicting somewhere in the middle.

Prediction: 7-3

Jamie Boggs

If there was ever a year for Kentucky to face an All-SEC schedule, this is the year that the roster is actually built for it. Almost the entire defense is returning, most of the fantastic offensive line is back, and the entire running back room is full of veterans. And, oh yeah, Terry Wilson is finally healthy.

Mark Stoops has this program in a great place. This is a sustainable system where there will be talent and depth for years to come. However, this is a very tough schedule. Even with the best roster Kentucky has to offer, it will be tough to have a winning record. I see Kentucky going 5-5 this year.

Wins: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Tennessee Or South Carolina

Losses: Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee OR South Carolina

Prediction: 5-5

Ethan DeWitt

If there was ever a season Kentucky was built to make some noise in the SEC this is it. This is the year Mark Stoops and staff have been building towards to show the SEC that the Cats are here to compete.

Lets start with the offense. We all know the O-Line is going to compete with anyone on the schedule week in and week out. Same goes for the running game with Rose, Smoke, and Rodriguez JR. The one factor that will carry a lot of weight this season is the pass game. Can Terry and the receivers do enough to open up the field so that the backs can go to work? Luckily this offseason one of the biggest praises from Eddie Gran has been the receiving core. Continue to do what has been happening in camp and offensively we should compete each week.

Now to the Defense. Once again it appears this will be the strength of the team. From the line to the secondary Stoops and Brad White are loaded with playmakers. We all know the names that this defense bolsters, it will just be coming out and competing each week to once again prove they are one of the best in the country.

Across the board each game should be competitive in its own right. You will see easy wins against Vandy and Missouri but outside of that the rest could be tight.

I expect the Cats to take that next step though and show they can continually win those tight games in a season for the ages.

Wins: Auburn, Mississippi St, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Missouri, Vandy, and South Carolina

Losses: Georgia, Alabama, and Florida

Prediction: 7-3

Ian Teasley

Kentucky returns a lot. Like, a lot. The Wildcats lost virtually no one one on the defensive side of the ball, save for Kash Daniel and Calvin Taylor, and they add one of the more hyped up defensive backs in the SEC in Kelvin ‘BossmanFat’ Joseph.

The defensive, in my humble opinion, will be the strong suit for this Kentucky team, and that is saying something because I believe the offense will be really good, probably the best of the Stoops era.

With Terry Wilson coming back for his final year, new father and all, I think Terry turns heads In the SEC with improved passing, while also trying to get back into the running game after his injury from last season.

The three-headed monster at running back, really four-headed if you count Travis Tisdale, has a real possibility of having three, 1,000 yard rushers on the same team.

But for me, it’s the defense. Bossman, Yusuf Corker, Cedrick Dort, Josh Paschal, Bully McCall, a healthy Davonte Robinson, a healthy Phil Hoskins, Brandin Echols. I mean that defense is absolutely loaded, which is one reason why I think Kentucky contends this season in an all SEC schedule.

With limited crowds, Kentucky can pull off road upsets that maybe they wouldn’t have any other time, which I predict Kentucky to win 6 games this year, with wins against Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina.

Kentucky drops games against Georgia, Alabama, and Florida to finish the season 7-3 for their best SEC season ever.

Prediction: 7-3

Jason Marcum

This has the potential to be one of the best teams Kentucky has ever fielded. Yet it will come in maybe the weirdest season for college football since World War II. In addition to facing about as challenging of an SEC schedule as Kentucky has and may ever face, they have to deal with ongoing threat of the coronavirus, which can quickly derail a team and put a chunk of their roster in quarantine for two weeks, if not longer.

So, while I am hopeful this will be a special team, the win-loss record probably isn’t going to reflect how good this team really is. This is going to be a really good team so long as they avoid the injury and COVID bugs, but this schedule makes going .500 a tall task.

The Cats should absolutely beat Missouri, Vanderbilt and South Carolina, though I believe Ole Miss and Mississippi State will both be better than they’re given credit for, and I could see the Cats losing a close one to one of them.

But I also think Kentucky will get a big win from the group of at Tennessee, at Auburn and at Florida. Again, as long as this team stays healthy, they’ll have a special win this season. It could come as soon as Week 1 on the road against a top-10 Auburn team. Beating Tennessee in Knoxville for the first time in over three decades would be a special day as well. And while Kentucky won at Florida two years ago, beating the Gators is always going to be special, especially when they’ll likely be a top-15 team when the two teams clash in Gainesville.

In the end, I think these Wildcats will win five games, then get a chance to whip Louisville (again) in the Music City Bowl.

Prediction: 5-5

Clark Brooks

Kentucky enters this fall with the SEC’s 6th-hardest schedule according to ESPN’s SP+ metric. Four of the Cats’ opponents are top 10 defensively with an additional three being top 20. Having two road games to the state of Alabama is rough, as is visiting Neyland Stadium and The Swamp.

But outside of the Georgia game, every other of their home games should be a win. Plus, UK should be favored on the road at Missouri. For what it is worth, those are the five games the SP+ projects the Cats to win.

Still, there are a few games with slim projected margins. Games versus Ole Miss, Missouri, and South Carolina look to be decided by a score. The only game Kentucky is an underdog in those respects is their game against Tennessee. There is a case to be made for going on either side of the 5 over/under win total.

But bettors appear to be believers in Big Blue. Their initial win total was set at 4.5 (over+105). Now its at 5 (over-165); meaning you have you bet $100 to gain $60 and some change. Other than Vandy’s under 1 (-180) and Mississippi State’s under (-210) 4 win totals, no SEC team presents a worse bang-for-buck payout.

But when the schedule was first released in late August, l found something interesting looking at UK’s schedule. The Herald-Leader’s Mark Story even wrote about some goodies just last week. Thanks to how their schedule lines up, the Cats benefit from either following or preceding a major game across virtually every one of their opponents’ slates.

Auburn travels to Athens in Week 2 after showing UK some hospitality to begin the year. Ole Miss travels to Lexington in between hosting Florida and Alabama. Tennessee faces the Cats in between squaring off against Alabama and Georgia. The Dawgs visit the Cats after traveling to Tuscaloosa on the second leg of a back-to-back road trip. This is the game before Georgia’s bye, after which they face Florida.

For Missouri, the Cats follow Florida. After the bye, Kentucky hosts Vandy who will be on its second-leg of a back-to-back road trip. The Commodores host Florida the following week. Then, Kentucky travels south to Tuscaloosa after the Tide takes on LSU, which is the week before the Iron Bowl. If that is not a trap game for Alabama, I don’t know what is.

South Carolina will travel to Lexington to end the season after they host Georgia. Only Mississippi State and Florida can dismiss the trap game element when it comes to Kentucky this fall.

The Cats will be led by their defense, which is top 26 to begin the year. Still, their offense looks to be serviceable enough with a top 35 rating. Their defense has the edge in six of their match-ups, but their offense only does in three. The Big Blue Wall is well-heralded, but it will not mean much if they cannot help the Cats win inside the margins. The defense can hold its own. But if the Cats’ O-Line is just average, there is no way they will be able to win half their games with one of the hardest schedule in SEC play. It’s as simple as that.

Since Kentucky’s under/over win total is set at 5, it’s not very fun to predict a push. So, I’ll say the Cats can finish 6-4 due to how their schedule aligns ever so nicely for them. Even though I think one less win is more likely, tons of continuity factors favor UK exiting a whacky ass off season.

Prediction: 6-4