As summer comes to an end, fall begins, the grass seems a little bit bluer and the smiles seem a little bit bigger as the now “Kroger Field” gets ready to be filled, each seat filled with a fan who is hopeful and ready for another season of Kentucky football. The question I can’t help but come to is, “what can we expect?” Realistically, I think this season more than most, fans will find their wishful thinking fulfilled. This year the difference is the big blue tide is turning and whether the rest of the SEC wants to see it or not that is the case. For the first time in a while this is more than looking at the schedule and imagining the team “finding a way”.
With one of the top returning rushers in the SEC with Benny Snell and trying out the position for the first time at second string Sihiem King and one of the most heated QB competitions with Stephen Johnson and Drew Barker battling it out and before anyone forgets, the dark horse for the eventual starting spot Gunnar Hoak who had a spectacular spring game earlier this year largely outshining the highly expected starter Stephen Johnson. Our wide receivers got quite a bump this year in help with Lynn Bowden who has been showing out as he arrived on campus recently. One of the bigger questions to answer is how to fill the void on the offensive line after Jon Toth’s departure due to his graduation from the University of Kentucky. That question of who will essentially “be next” is one name and one name only, Drake Jackson. He has been all the talk when it comes to the offensive line, post scrimmage interview from the team’s first scrimmage this past week had Eddie Gran praising him and his “great job” in the scrimmage. His size and power will be able to open holes and improve the already amazing run game that has this growing Kentucky team standing out. With offense addressed we move on to the side of the ball that has been struggling since Stoops arrived as the coach which caught everyone by surprise considering his defensive speciality at Florida State. This doesn’t so much speak to a lack of Stoop’s ability as much as it does to the extremely poor condition the defense was left in with a post Joker Phillips era and now for the first time the achilles heel of our team, the run defense, has been said not to have been entirely addressed but “very much improved” according to the defensive coaches after the scrimmage. This if true would allow this team to hold teams on third down and allow us to live up to Mark Stoop’s motto for this team, “FINISH”. I expect a large jump in the production of our defense led by Jordan Jones who is nothing short of a power house as the BBN knows and if you didn’t know then well, now you know. Jordan led the SEC in tackles for a period but still was able to finish 1st in the SEC and 16th nationally in solo tackles per game at 5.7 and led the team and ranked third in the SEC with tackles per game at 8.4, needless to say he is a POWER HOUSE, and is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball. With these key players coming up and returning I feel as though that has been what is missing post Randall Cobb. Playmakers have been missing and now after last season being a breakout year for the cats that is what we are left with. Breakout players looking for their coming out party when they are now on everyone’s radar. So with all of this, how do we finish the season? No one will know for sure but I think that there is 9 winnable games on the schedule. I do not expect 9 wins but I think there is 9 there up for grabs. If I had to break down the season this is how I would predict it:
@Souther Miss- W
Even though we lost at home last year I think it was simply a game we didn’t respect and they caught us disrespecting a good football team but I think we pull this game out very easily
Eastern Kentucky @ home- W
Kentucky handles this game like most expect with a easy warm up game for the season.
@ South Carolina- L
I do think that we can win this game but South Carolina is a growing team too who is out for blood after losing 3 straight years to UK, Columbia at night does not bode well this early in the season though.
Florida Gators @ home- W
This is it, are you ready? This is the year that the streak ends and Kentucky can finally get the monkey off our backs, even though Florida handled us at the swamp last year, I expect a much different outcome at Kroger Field presumably under the lights.
Eastern Michigan Eagles @ home-W
A good win to pad our win column to ensure a bowl and hopefully a better bowl than last year.
Mizzou Tigers @ home – W
After the manhandling given to Mizzou last year, now that it comes to Kroger field you are left with no other option but to assume a win, but if you don’t want to assume then you can look at their growth as a team and see that even though their quarterback is promising that is where the promising stops. No trouble expected in this game as long as all goes well from Kentucky’s end.
@ Miss. St.- L
After witnessing first hand the very exciting and exhilarating game that was the UK vs Miss. St. game last year I can’t help but point out that a field goal was needed to win that game and we were at home, Starkville is known for its noise and wild fans which I do not think combined with a very good Miss. St. team will be a good combination for this team. All in the same I expect a very close game.
UT @ home- W/L
This is what I consider my “wildcard” game. This is why I said earlier that I think there is 9 “winnable” games but I was unsure about whether or not we would actually attain that amount. This is that game for me. This became that game for me after seeing that Vegas for the first time in many seasons actually opened this game up as a “pick em” game which shocked me and caused me to dig around into why this was and I can say that I largely agree even after the embarrassment we experienced last year adding to another loss streak I can say with confidence it can go either way now that the game is at Kroger Field
Ole Miss @ home – W
This game I have as a W because I feel that the turmoil on the team will be a detriment to their season due to distrust and coming into a hostile environment like Kroger Field and a young and hungry team for wins this late in the season I don’t believe Ole Miss has the fire power to handle this Kentucky Football team.
@ Vanderbilt- W
This is a team for one reason or another we consistently struggle with and especially now with a new and passionate coach at the helm with a vision. I respect this team and do not think it will be an easy win but I do think it will be a win because of history and position for position over the past seasons and what we have this year we have been able to handle it and coming into this season almost every guy on the starting roster outclasses Vanderbilt’s.
@ UGA- L
As much as I would love to see this football team march into Athens and come out with a win, I just don’t see it as a possibility. Athens being one of the hardest places to play in the country and a very good Georgia Bulldogs football team is just too much for this team at this moment.
Louisville Cardinals @ home- W
I do not believe last year was fluke. I know some do and that is fine but I can not join that group do to the fact that Lamar Jackson did not in any way have an off game. He threw spectacularly and ran the ball all over Kentucky’s defense. But, Kentucky was able to gut it out, but why? Was it because it was luck? Lamar Jackson’s fumble? I think the fumble helped obviously, but how did we get to that point? We played, very good. It sounds simple and not very well thought out but it is that simple. We went out, in a big game and made big plays. Stephen Johnson’s long bombs to Garret Johnson and Benny’s power house runs being opened up by a very well performing offensive line. You also can’t forget the amazing job by the defense making interception plays. I think we win this one in a close one, again.
So, I finish with this, 8-9 wins is what I expect. I think that Kentucky fans can expect that with confidence but no matter what, this team is changing, the fan base is excited and rightfully so. As we countdown the days with only one more week until college football starts you can feel the anticipation. Kentucky fans, get ready for an amazing season, I believe its the one we have been waiting for.
Be sure to follow @Ukfansallday, myself @jacob_deaton, and last but certainly not least @UKFootball for more updates on this exciting season!