It’s that time of year where we all start making our season predictions. Are they silly and pointless? Sure are. Are they fun anyway? You bet. That’s why everyone does them. Essentially, this will be my best guess as to where Kentucky finishes the season based on performances by players last season that are returning for 2014 and guesses as to where incoming players will have an impact. The Wildcats are tough to figure out this year due to the expectation that the offensive and defensive schemes will further evolve from last season and because so many players are different for the Cats this year. So before worrying about opponents, let’s look at Kentucky and see where the team is compared to last season.[/caption]
Patrick Towles won the starting job and he has all the tools of a future NFL star. With Phillips and Barker as capable backups, Maxwell Smith was left on the outside looking in and Jalen Whitlow was asked to move positions prior to his transfer. When your incumbents are behind two redshirted players and a true freshmen, obviously the talent level has improved.
We all love Ray Sanders and Jonathan George for their contributions to the football program, but Kentucky probably hasn’t had a stable of backs this good in about 30 years.
It’s tough to say this, because I really like our receivers. Ultimately though, Kentucky entered last season with a group largely made up of true freshmen receivers that would be forced to cut their teeth right away. Javess Blue and Demarco Robinson return, but injuries (Blue) and off-field incidents (Robinson) have limited their contributions this offseason. An untimely injury to Jeff Badet and a still-recovering Alex Montgomery will be unavailable for at least part of the season and UK will once again ask 4-5 true freshmen to be baptized by fire this year. Timmons returns and should be very good, but too many youngsters will be counted on again this season to consider the team “better” here.
Jordan Aumiller and Tyler Robinson weren’t fooling anyone into thinking they were Jimmy Graham, but both were valuable assets to the offense that played extensively over their four year careers including both starting at some point in their freshman seasons. It’s not that I don’t think Shields and Borden are bad, but eight years of experience in the SEC and stellar blocking from this position will be harder to replace than some realize.
Swindle and Miller return at the tackles with another year of experience under their belts as starters. Zach West should be healing up from a lingering shoulder injury that hampered him for much of last season. Jon Toth should only get better after playing well as a redshirt freshman. The only question mark is at right guard, where Ramsey Meyers is being raved upon. With only one new starter and the possibility that Meyers may have a breakout year, the line is looking good.
Weird, right? With possibly the best group of defensive ends EVER at Kentucky, the defensive line doesn’t move up. As good as Smith, Dupree, Hatcher, and others might be, starting TWO new defensive tackles is tough. Of the five players expected to see significant time here, only senior Mike Douglas has game experience.
No offense to the linebackers, but replacing Avery Williamson was always going to be tough. A hodgepodge of bodies in contention for reps at linebackers tells you that the staff hasn’t found “the guy” to replace their departed senior leader.
You add A.J. Stamps, return basically everyone, and bring in several talented freshmen and it’s tough not too look at this group as improved. Quinn and Tiller could be in for breakout years after learning on the fly as freshmen ans sophomores due to limited depth.
So overall, Kentucky SHOULD be a better team this fall. If a small handful of guys can step up at linebacker, defensive tackle, tight end, and receiver, then this team could see some vast improvements in 2014. The staff has recruited a substantial amount of talent at those positions with multiple four star players at many of those positions, so the talent is there.
Moving on to the season and how I think it shakes out…
I see Kentucky’s 2014 campaign breaking into three groups of games. There are the games we should win, the games that should be losses and the games where we could have a chance. I say “could” here because there are a lot of variables that could bump these games into one of the other two columns later. Here is where I see each game at this point in the season.
UT-Martin: There is really no excuse for Kentucky to lose this game.
Ohio: The Wildcats should again be heavy favorites.
UL Monroe: The warhawks may have a cool team name and logo, but they shouldn’t challenge.
@ Florida: I don’t think the Gators are invincible by a long-shot, but asking this young team to win in the swamp is too much.
South Carolina: The Wildcats might pull off an upset at home, but the list of things that would need to go right is long.
@ LSU: I actually think LSU will challenge Alabama for the SEC this season. Death Valley is Death Valley.
Georgia: Lots of turnover on both sides of the ball, but there’s so much talent on the roster it won’t matter.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are going to try and reload after losing Franklin to Penn State. The game is in Lexington and the Wildcats get Vandy early. The talent levels are close, so this one could go either way, but I think home field advantage wins out. UK wins.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs should actually be very good this season. That said, The Wildcats are better than the team that hing with them last season and get the Bulldogs at home. Unfortunately, home field advantage hasn’t meant much in this series as UK hasn’t won in Lexington since 2005, nearly a decade. If Kentucky can win this one a bowl game would look very likely, but MSU probably has too much talent this particular year and the Wildcats are just a little too young. MSU pulls out a close one.
@ Missouri: I’m sorry, I just don’t buy the Missouri hype this year. I might be wrong, but Kentucky should be much more trouble for the Tigers than the injury decimated team we saw get blown out in Commonwealth last year. That said, traveling to Missouri will be tough for this young team and the Tigers are still very good despite their numerous losses on both sides of the ball. I’ll pick Missouri to win, by single digits though. Missouri wins.
@ Tennessee: The Vols won’t be down for long. Butch is recruiting with the best of them and Tennessee has everything you look for in a top program nationally but the wins. They still won’t be there this season, so the Wildcats could take advantage of year two of the rebuilding project. Unfortunately, the game is in Knoxville this season and I think that will be enough to give UT the edge. Tennessee wins.
@ Louisville: Losing Teddy Bridgewater will hurt this team, but losses on the defensive side of the ball might be more costly. The Cardinals will be breaking in a new coaching staff, a new offensive scheme, a new defensive scheme and defensive set, a new quarterback, and a new conference. Playing in a real conference with actual teams won’t allow the Cardinals to beat up on overpowered teams and hide depth issues or to avoid injuries. I see Kentucky finishing the season with a big win, setting up a huge season in 2015. UK wins.
So if you’re keeping count, I have Kentucky finishing 5-7. While that may seem a little gloomy, consider that that would be coming within a game of bowl eligibility and winning more games than the 2012 and 2013 teams combined. A couple of lucky breaks could swing other games, but I don’t see the Wildcats winning seven or more games this year, or winning fewer than three.