BOZICH | Kentucky's victory bar raised by 2016 win over Louisville
Kentucky has not won eight games in a season since 2007. Can Mark Stoops guide the improved Wildcats to that number this season?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Nothing says more about the optimism surrounding the 2017 Kentucky football team than the over/under win total posted for the Wildcats in Las Vegas:
The magic number is seven – for a program that has not won more than seven games in a season in a decade. (Call Rich Brooks for details.) Credit the Wildcats’ 41-38 victory at Louisville last season with stirring chatter all the way to Nevada.
Here’s what I see looking at the schedule for Mark Stoops’ team: Two sure wins, two unlikely wins and a bunch of grinding in the other eight. History says Under is the wise play, but maybe Mark Stoops is ready to shift the narrative.
At ESPN, the forecast is 6.7 wins. I placed a call into Bristol for details on the key to the 0.7. I’m waiting for Stephen A. Smith to get back to me.
1. Eastern Kentucky, home, Sept. 9 – The Colonels are 0-4 against the Wildcats, although they did push the game into overtime two seasons ago. EKU lost five of its last six and turned the ball over 31 times, with 20 interceptions. If the Wildcats can’t book this one, there’s no reason to discuss the other 11.
2. Eastern Michigan, home, Sept. 30 – The only thing I know about the Team Formerly Known as The Hurons is that Ron Cooper and Ron English once coached there. The Eagles played an SEC team last season – and lost to Missouri by 40. EMU was picked to finish fourth in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference. Better be another Book It.
3. Southern Miss, road, Sept. 2 – Yes, the Wildcats lost to Southern Miss in Lexington last season. Yes, Southern Miss halfback to Smith has delivered back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and is ranked the 14th best back in college football by The Sporting News. Southern Miss has a new quarterback – and nobody has compared him to Brett Favre. The offensive line has three new starters. Kentucky proved its road chops at Missouri and Louisville last season. Best chance for a road win.
4. Missouri, home, Oct. 7 – To make your move in the SEC East, you have to keep the Tigers in the rear-view mirror. The Wildcats have done that the last two seasons. Although the Tigers have a dangerous quarterback in Drew Lock, they don’t play defense the way they played it while winning the SEC East in 2013 and 2014.
5. Ole Miss, home, Nov. 4 – No Hugh Freeze. No Chad Kelly. No backs who have run for more than 261 yards. No real mojo because of NCAA issues. No reason to fear the Rebels any more – and that’s no a misdial.
6. Vanderbilt, road, Nov. 11 – The Commodores are a trendy surprise pick in the SEC and even that was not enough love to please coach Derek Mason whose go-to sound bite at SEC Media Days was, “Vanderbilt football is on the rise." There isn’t room for the Wildcats and Commodores in the middle of the SEC East. Time for UK to beat Vandy in back-to-back games for the first time since 2010.
7. Mississippi State, road, Oct. 21 – The trend line is tilting the wrong direction in Starkville where the Bulldogs have slipped from 10 wins to 9 to 6 the last three seasons. With the Wildcats coming off a bye week, this is The Swing Game on the UK schedule.
8. South Carolina, road, Sept. 16 – The Wildcats have never beaten the Gamecocks four straight, but they’d never won three in a row until scoring, 17-10, in Commonwealth Stadium last season. They’re gaga about quarterback Jake Bentley in Columbia, but South Carolina’s defense gave up an average of 44 points in the final three games against Western Carolina, Clemson and USF. Winnable.
9. Louisville, home, Nov. 28 – I’ll repeat what I wrote Tuesday: The Wildcats accelerated the timetable on beating the Cardinals by one year in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Both teams are capable of winning but there’s no reason to pick somebody until Nov. 24 when you have a list of which players are healthy and available. A revenge rivalry game. Good luck picking that dynamic.
10. Tennessee, home, Oct. 28 – History says this game belongs in the category below, considering Kentucky has one victory over the Volunteers since 1984. But there’s a strange brew building around UT where much of the off-season talk has been about the job security of coach Butch Jones. When is the perfect time to play Tennessee? At home the Saturday after the Vols play Alabama.
11. Florida, home, Sept. 23 – Navy beat Notre Dame. Temple beat Penn State. Kansas State beat Nebraska. Kentucky beat Tennessee. There’s nothing left to look for in college football series losing streaks – other than UK beating Florida for the first time in 31 tries. It’s time.
Georgia, road, Nov. 18 – Georgia is my pick to win the SEC East because nobody has better running backs than Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and the Bulldogs return 10 defensive starters from a team that won four of its last five. Even Kirby Smart will hear some backlash if Georgia loses this one in Athens.
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