BOZICH | Kentucky football season predictions by WDRB Sports - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Kentucky football season predictions by WDRB Sports

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Kentucky opens play Saturday at Southern Miss. Kentucky opens play Saturday at Southern Miss.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This is year five for Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops. All the guys are his recruits. It’s his program. He has all the toys, bells, whistles and fan support that he’s been requesting.

Stoops danced off the hot seat created by an 0-2 start last season to lead the Wildcats to seven victories, including four in the Southeastern Conference and another against the University of Louisville

You know how this works: Seven wins was nice. Now do it again. Or make it eight.

Can the Wildcats deliver?

Answers will start to percolate Saturday in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, when Kentucky opens its season at Southern Miss. That’s the victory that got away from Stoops and Company last season. Kentucky cannot let that happen again in 2017 if the Wildcats expect to upgrade to a better record and bowl game.

Early returns are mixed. The Wildcats are down two offensive starters because of injury. The defense has legitimate questions across the line.

But Benny Snell proved he was a prime-time SEC running back, C.J. Conrad is an emerging stud at tight end, quarterback Stephen Johnson made winning plays and the secondary is a veteran, full-sized, talented group.

What’s the pick for Stoops in year five?

The WDRB Sports staff made its picks — and picked five Wildcats to Watch.

Katie George (5-7) — They have a tough SEC schedule per usual, but a winnable non-conference schedule. The game that will decide a bowl trip will come down to Louisville visiting Kroger Field on the last Saturday in November.

John Lewis (6-6) — A lot to like about UK’s schedule with seven home games, but that includes visits from Florida, Tennessee and Louisville. No matter the venue, that won’t be easy for the Wildcats.

Mike Lacett (6-6) — They’ve made tremendous progress in Lexington, but they’re still in the nasty SEC. I think they’ll be steady this year.

Eric Crawford (7-5) — Early road wins at Southern Miss and South Carolina are key.

Tom Lane (6-6) — More strides forward and a few back for the Wildcats.

Rick Bozich (8-4) — Beat Southern Miss, EKU and Eastern Michigan. That’s three. Win three more home games (Missouri, Ole Miss and Louisville). Steal two road wins from South Carolina, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Easy, right?

Five Kentucky Players to Watch

5. Naquez Pringle, defensive tackle — There are more questions than proven performers in the UK defensive front. At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 320 pounds, Pringle has the beef and the experience to be the Wildcats’ primary run stopper. He needs to deliver.

4. Lynn Bowden, wide receiver — There are several true freshmen that are expected to contribute early and often, but only one has inspired considerable hyperventilation. UK receivers coach Lamar Thomas told me that the hype on Bowden is legit and that he should contribute at receiver and in special teams.

3. Mike Edwards, safety — The best safeties are dependable tacklers, excellent coverage guys and capable of contributing turnovers. Edwards checks all those boxes. He was UK’s second-leading tackler last season and he contributed three interceptions.

2. Stephen Johnson, quarterback — For a guy who led Kentucky to a surprising seven-win season and a rivalry game victory, Johnson has work to do to keep both hands on the starting position. His completion percentage needs to improve and his interception percentage needs to decline or there will be people howling for Drew Barker.

1. Benny Snell, running back — Kentucky’s best running back since … Artose Pinner? Moe Williams? Make your own selection. Snell is tough, explosive, durable and runs with an edge. Give him the ball.

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