For many years, it seems like most Kentucky Wildcats football fans have said, sometimes aloud, “You know, this year could be the year the Cats finally breakthrough and become a legitimate threat in the SEC and a recognized football program across the country.”
And when those words have been uttered or thought, UK usually went 6-6 or 5-7 and those hopes were dashed on the rocky shores of mediocrity.
Well my fellow Cat fans, those words are being uttered and thought again from Pikeville to Paducah and points all across the country. These Cats just might be the team that burst through the glass ceiling and become the program that we have hoped and longed for.
With a new offensive coordinator that will link the forward pass to the vaunted run game (Liam Coen, looking at you), the talent pool finally reaching SEC-level talent across the board, and a new quarterback with an absurd cannon for a right arm in Penn State transfer Will Levis (don’t believe me, check the team’s Twitter feed), this edition of the Kentucky Wildcats could be that team we talk about for seasons to come as the tide turner for the program.
With this newfound hubris comes the dreaded word expectations. UK will no longer be able to sneak up on anyone, especially since the program has enjoyed the trajectory it has under coach Mark Stoops and staff.
Will this trajectory continue to skyrocket or will the Cats settle for mere average? It will all play out over this 2021 football season, so without further delay, let’s do some predicting.
By the way, I have been joined by a Pessimistic Cats Fan in my column. You know the one. Their take will be included as well.
Week 1- Louisiana-Monroe. The Cats welcome the Warhawks to Kroger Field in the season opener. The Cats have way too much size and power for the Hawks. Look for the Big Blue Wall and power back Chris Rodriguez Jr. to have big days.
Cats 35, Hawks 14.
Pessimistic Cats Fan- “I’ll give you that one sir.”
Week 2- Missouri. Don’t think for a second that coach Stoops will let his team forget their dismal performance in Columbia last year. If the Cats win here, then a run to 5-0 is certainly on the table. The game will be close, but I like the Cats in Lexington in front of a charged-up crowd.
Cats 31, Mizzou 24
PCF- “We should win this one, but I don’t feel good about it.”
Week 3- Chattanooga.UK could have somewhat of a letdown after the big win over Missouri last week. But like the game with UL-Monroe, the Cats have too much again. Cats win big at home to go 3-0.
Cats 34, Mocs 10
PCF- Of course we should drill the Chattanooga Choo-Choo’s, but I think we could overlook them...and we will be an ugly 2-1 on the season.”
Week 4- at South Carolina. The Cats’ first “business trip” lands them in Columbia where new Carolina coach Shane Beamer begins his first head coaching stint. Beamer is South Carolina through and through and comes from a pretty good coaching tree (his dad is Va Tech legend, Frank Beamer.) To me, this is a good test to see just how far the program has come. Can the Cats go on the road in the SEC as a favorite and take care of business? In a dogfight, UK pulls one out late.
Cats 38, Carolina 30
PCF- “Ok Mr. Writer, you are getting a mite big for your britches. Carolina is a tough out in Columbia and you got us 4-0. Settle down.”
Week 5- Florida. If UK has any aspirations to win the SEC East and play in Atlanta, then they must win two of their next three, beginning with Florida. The Gators came back to defeat the Cats in the Swamp last year behind quarterback Kyle Trask and his stable of NFL drafted receivers. Florida will also have a new quarterback like the Cats, and they both will be expected to make plays with their arms since both defenses can cause problems with the rushing game. This will be the first real test for Levis in the SEC. I think he will be fine and the run game will get going in the second half.
Cats 27, Gators 21
PCF- “Ok. Now you’ve done it. 5-0 and beating Florida. What kind of Kool-Aid have you been drinking?”
Week 6- LSU. Does anyone remember the last time the Tigers came to Lexington? The Cats beat the top-ranked Tigers 43-37 in overtime in 2007. Am I saying it happens again? Maybe. The Tigers have one quarterback with experience playing right now in Max Johnson, a new defensive coordinator, and other questions in key spots. I’m not saying it should be a win by any stretch, but I am saying it is a very winnable game for the Cats. In another nailbiter, give me the Cats to go 6-0. Man, I need to check my temperature.
Cats 27, Tigers 24
PCF- “You need to check more than your temperature. There’s no way we are 6-0 right now!”
Week 7- at Georgia. If the Cats go 6-0 to here, then this game becomes a Top-10 showdown with the national interest. Even if the Cats come to Athens 5-1, this game has significant meaning because one loss certainly doesn’t eliminate you for the SEC East race. As much as I would like to say the Cats win this one, alas I think Georgia has a little too much between the hedges. The Cats will suffer their first loss.
Dawgs 34, Cats 24
PCF- If you would have picked us to win over top-five Georgia on the road and go 7-0, I would have thrown my iPhone 8 out the car window.”
Week 8- at Mississippi State. The Cats throttled the Bulldogs last season in Lexington as the Air Raid of Mike Leach struggled against the pressure of the Cats. I do think the second edition in Starkville will be better and will give the Cats all they can handle. However, the Cats come off a bye week to prepare for all the passing and will be rested and ready to have their way upfront with the Dawgs. Editors Note: I hate cowbells, except when Will Ferrell is exploring the studio and jamming to Don’t Fear the Reaper.
Cats 38, Dawgs 24
PCF- “I still can’t believe we didn’t hire Mike Leach years ago. They might throw for 1,000 yards in that offense. And I hate cowbells!”
Week 9- Tennessee. Any way you slice it, it’s a complete rebuild in Knoxville. I think they have the right guy in Josh Heupel to build the Vols back to a contender, and his passing game will keep the Vols in games (think the early years of the Air Raid with Hal Mumme.) But like those Mumme teams, the Vols will struggle with SEC size and power, which the Cats have. In a close one, the Cats move to 8-1.
Cats 34, Vols 24
PCF- I’ve never seen Kentucky football be 8-1, even on the NCAA Football game. It won’t let you do it. Gotta have a code or something.”
Week 10- at Vanderbilt Oh, the trip to Nashville. I know, I know. The Cats never play well in the Music City in anything. I can’t explain it. But I know this. Vandy is in a ground-up rebuild under coach Clark Lea. Lea is a former Vandy fullback and has the tenacity to make the Commodores tougher. Unfortunately, the Dores don’t have the talent there to put much of a dent in the SEC for now. The Cats outclass Vandy at all levels to win going away.
Cats 41, Vandy 17
PCF- “Vanderbilt is terrible so that means we will win 9-6 again in a rainstorm.”
Week 11- New Mexico State. The Aggies aren’t very good usually. I’m thinking more of the same this season. This game is more about the Cats and their preparation and execution, especially with Louisville on the horizon.
Cats 42, Aggies 14
PCF- “I know one thing, you’re AGGIEvating me with your predictions.” Don’t you remember the past umpteen years? You’re just daring another 0-10-1 season.”
Week 12- at Louisville. As of this writing, ESPN has this game as a 50-50 tossup. I’m thinking the Cards come into the game 6-5, while the Cats will be (according to my prediction 10-1.) If this is the case or anywhere close, the Cats will bully the Cards around in their big Pizza Box and win smoothly. But it is a big rivalry game coming off a year’s hiatus, so both camps will be amped up. The Cats prove to be too big and talented in this one.
Cats 38, Cards 20
PCF- “If Bobby Petrino is near Louisville, he will come in on his motorcycle and put an offense in for Lamar Jackson and thump us. Oh, wait… Nevermind. Go Cats!”
So if everything breaks like I think it will, the Cats are looking at 11-1. I know some (or most) of you think I’m off my rocker and laying sprawled out in front of it, but if you look at the team, the schedule, and how it all breaks, 11-1 is very doable.
In truth, it comes down to four games on the schedule for me- Missouri, Florida, LSU, and Georgia. Most of my mockups went from 8-4 to 11-1 for the Cats. With three of the four being home games, I feel like the Cats have a little edge in those contests. However, as with most predictions, injuries and situations can affect the team and the record.
What do you think about this season?
I’m sure every PCF has its opinions.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sportswriter from Speedwell, TN. You can follow him on various media sites and publications. Shane is also a football color analyst for WRIL-FM 106.3 Sports. He has also written and published his first book “Bounce: A Basketball Love Story” which can be found on Kindle and hardcopy soon. You can contact Shane by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.