(Photo courtesy of ESPN)
The all knowing, all powerful talking heads at the “mothership”, ESPN, released their projected win totals for the 2018 SEC teams yesterday. Regardless of the fact that Kentucky has won seven games the past two seasons, as well as the fact that they are returning 18 starts (19 total players with starting experience), ESPN has projected Kentucky to only win 5.4 games. Rounded down, this means that they project Kentucky to go 5-7, despite two straight bowl appearances.
The level of disdain that the “useful idiots” in Bristol have for the University of Kentucky is unparalleled. They constantly underestimate and under promote the Wildcats. If it were not for the historical and sustained success of the men’s basketball team, they would negatively report on Coach Calipari’s teams, as well. This is evidenced by the negative coverage after a bad loss or during a down season. The old saying, “They hate us, because they ain’t us” was never more true than when referring to ESPN’s feelings toward UK.
Historically, the Kentucky football program has had periods of good football interspersed with longer periods where they struggle. Only Paul “Bear” Bryant and Blanton Collier have had career winning records at the University of Kentucky. Rich Brooks took Kentucky to four straight bowl games, but finished with a losing record. Enter Mark Stoops. After going 2-10 his first year, Stoops has gone 5-7, 5-7, 7-6, 7-6. He is one of only three coaches who have maintained or improved their team’s win total each year since 2012.
Many so-called fans have complained that Stoops has “left wins on the table” the past two seasons, which further proves his abilities. At no time in my life have the expectations for UK Football been as high as they are now. Stoops has won games that previous coaches haven’t, including four straight against South Carolina (who ESPN annually over promotes), Louisville and Tennessee. Over the last two years, Coach Stoops has had the Wildcats competitive in the majority of the games they have played in. So, why would so-called experts pick the Wildcats to regress with stable coaching, low roster turnover and a good recruiting class? The answer is simple: it’s easy to pick against UK because of their history. However, that is the lazy approach to preseason prognostication.
The recruiting under Coach Stoops has improved from previous years and previous regimes. Kentucky has consistently ranked 38th or better nationally in recruiting since 2013. They have been proven to be excellent evaluators of talent, as every recruiting coordinator in the SEC follows Vince Marrow around and offers the kids Kentucky offers early (This means you Derrick Ansley).
(Photo courtesy of Spectrum News)
They have also developed several great talents from 2 and low 3 star recruits, such as Josh Allen and TJ Carter. The recruiting rankings show classes full of 3 and some 4 stars, with an occasional 2 star. This is diametrically opposed to Joker Philips’ recruiting style of offering players who he knew he would not lose out on. Coach Stoops, Marrow and Eddie Gran have changed the recruiting game at UK, beating the big dogs for some recruits, even when Ohio State will not admit it (i.e. Lynn Bowden, Chris Oats). Of course the recruiting gods at ESPN probably do not think that much of Coach Stoops’ efforts. After all, it’s just Kentucky.
The schedule next year is not a tough one, with up to 9 wins as a possibility.
(Photo courtesy of UK Athletics)
There are seven home games and five away games. The five away game have three winnable games: at Missouri, at Tennessee and at Louisville. Only two home games are likely losses: Mississippi State and Georgia. The Mississippi State game is a possibility, depending on how well and how quickly Nick Fitzgerald heals.
With 20 players with starting experience, a good recruiting class (including early enrollees) and a favorable schedule, the likely record for Kentucky is 8-4. The likely losses are at Florida, at Texas A&M and Georgia. The likely wins are Central Michigan, Murray State, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Middle Tennessee State. This means that there are four toss up games, all of which ESPN’s “experts” have apparently picked us to lose. If Nick Fitzgerald is healthy, beating Mississippi State will be harder, but they did not upgrade their head coaching position. It is at Commonwealth, so I count it a win. Kentucky has beaten South Carolina four straight times. The game is at Commonwealth (I refuse to call it Kroger), so I count it a win too. Tennessee has a first time head coach and no returning run game to speak of. However, it is at Neyland Stadium, so it is easier to put this in the loss column. Finally, the Louisville Cardinals will be without their best player of all time, Lamar Jackson. I see no one on their roster who can replace his production. This game is played in Louisville, but I see Kentucky winning. This leaves us with an 8-4 record, 4-0 out of conference and 4-4 in the SEC.
(Photo courtesy of Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Coach Mark Stoops has proven that he can recruit, develop players and win the games that he should. The next step is to start winning all of the toss-up games and some of the games he is not supposed to win. Once he does that consistently, then maybe the geniuses at ESPN will pick Kentucky to win more than 5 games. Then again, maybe not.