(Photo courtesy of SEC Country)
This year of football for Kentucky is the most significant one we will have in the Stoops’ era. With 17 starters returning this year, we need to make this season count. Starting the 2016 season under Drew Barker, we went 0-2 and Benny Snell did not see the field in either loss. In those first two games, Barker threw 4 interceptions on 34 pass attempts. Completing an abysmal 52% of his passes along with that. That same season, we went on to win 7 games under the command of Stephen Johnson. With our schedule being much weaker than last year’s, anything less than 7 wins is a season to forget.
Recruiting may be what is effected the most by this season. With an 8 or 9 win season, we could be reeling in a lot of our top targets. We have been very successful recruiting without many wins. Imagine who we could get with with more wins than usual on our resume. The 2018 recruiting class probably wouldn’t be effected immensely but 2019 and further up could be influenced heavily. This is not to say that we won’t recruit well in the upcoming seasons, but winning games in the SEC can only help.
Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia. What do they all have in common? Not only are they our biggest rivals in our conference, they are the rivals that we have struggled year in and year out to defeat. Florida has dominated UK for 30 years straight. That has to end, and it has to end soon. Kentucky recruits heavily in Florida, beating Florida would make a statement and it would help our recruiting even more. Florida is only returning 5 defensive starters, with our offense being a powerhouse, this is where we need to take advantage. With Luke Del Rio passing the ball, the Gators will not do anything in the passing game. Luke Del Rio passed for less yards than Stephen Johnson, threw less touchdowns and more interceptions.
Tennessee has historically and recently dominated the Cats as well. Regardless of the past, this is just another opportunity to expand our recruiting. With Dobbs gone, Tennessee will be nowhere near the same team. Not just Dobbs is gone either, 5 other players were drafted and 2 starters graduated. This game being at Kroger Field should make it all easier. Tennessee still doesn’t know who will replace Dobbs, as redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano and junior Quinten Dormady will likely both be seeing the field early on in the season. Losing their star running back and wide receiver didn’t help them much either. This is the year Kentucky needs to go out and send a message as I expect them to do.
Georgia is by far the toughest team we will face out of the three mentioned above. We have only beat them a handful of times and this year won’t get any easier. Returning all but one starter on defense is scary and having two All-SEC running backs in their stables is even more intimidating. They return just as many starters as we do, but that defense not losing a lot will be too much. Last year at Commonwealth it was close. This game is not in Lexington this time although we stayed right with them last game. If we can build off that, minimize mistakes, contain the run game, and not let the crowd get to us, we have a chance to shock the nation of college football. Do I like our chances? No, but this game is winnable and I expect us to put up a fight.
It is games like these that we need our veterans to step-up in the most. All three of those games are winnable and two are in Lexington. Winning two of the three games forementioned is what this team needs. Very few are giving us a chance this year and until we start getting quality wins in big games this issue will not change. With our loaded roster full of experience I expect to see better performances and more wins. If our guys can go out and get it done, the future for Kentucky may be even brighter. Don’t forget to follow @ukfansallday on twitter!