LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Big Ten canceled its 2020 football season last week, days after making a big splash about its revised schedule on the Big Ten Network.
On Monday night, it was time for the Southeastern Conference to share the news about its rebuilt, 10-game, conference-only schedule.
It was difficult believing the Big Ten pulled an about-face after its big TV reveal. Fans of the SEC and Kentucky seem confident that U-turn will not occur in their league — or at least as confident as sports fans can be in the novel corona virus pandemic world.
Here is a game-by-game look at Kentucky’s schedule, which features five teams that are likely to begin the season ranked in the national Top 25.
At Auburn, Sept. 26
Only 10 starters return for Gus Malzah, which explains the 17-team gap between Auburn’s highest preseason ranking and its worst projection. He does not rank any of Auburn’s offensive units among the top 15 in the nation. Upset city?
SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy called it an “intriguing” opening week matchup, labeling the Wildcats a “sleeper” team.
Top 25 rankings: Four — No. 9 Street & Smith’s; No. 12 Lindy’s; No. 13 Athlon; No. 22 Phil Steele; No. 26 Pick Six Preview.
Projected SEC West Finish: Third.
Ole Miss, Oct. 3, home
They’re gaga about Lane Kiffin in Oxford after he rebuilt his street cred working for Nick Saban and winning at Florida Atlantic. The Rebels return 13 starters (eight on offense) from a team that lost its last five SEC games. Should be a win. Kiffin isn’t that good.
Top 25 Rankings: None
Projected SEC West Finish: Fifth
Mississippi State, Oct. 10, home
When we last saw the Bulldogs they were melting down in the Music City Bowl against Louisville. Mike Leach was summoned from Washington State to cleanse the mess that Joe Moorhead created in two weird seasons in Starkville. If Leach can fix sophomore Garrett Shrader, the Bulldogs could be dangerous. But Kentucky beat State by three touchdowns the last time they came to Lexington.
Top 25 Rankings: None
Projected SEC West Finish: Sixth
At Tennessee, Oct. 17
The Vols still have this mojo thing going against Kentucky, somehow pulling out that 17-13 victory at Kroger Field last season. Jeremy Pruitt’s team won its last six and seven of its last eight, and the best win was over the Wildcats.
Top 25 rankings: Two — No. 15 Pick Six Preview; No. 21 Street & Smith’s; No. 26 Athlon; No. 28 Phil Steele; No. 31 Lindy’s.
Projected SEC East Finish: Third.
Georgia, Oct. 24, home
Kirby Smart keeps crushing it in recruiting, but after signing Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm and Justin Fields to play quarterback, he’s counting on a Wake Forest transfer (Jamie Newman) to push the Bulldogs to the top of the SEC. That’s a tough ask for an offense that lost eight starters. But Georgia stacks four- and five-star recruits like crushed paper cups.
Top 25 Rankings: Five — No. 6 by Phil Steele & Pick Six Preview; No. 7 by Athlon and Lindy’s; No. 8 by Street & Smith’s.
Projected SEC East Finish: Second
At Missouri, Oct. 31
Eli Drinkwitz did splendid things in his sole season as Scott Satterfield’s successor at Appalachian State. Getting Missouri back near the top of the East, where the Tigers routinely hung out under Gary Pinkel. If you’re counting road wins, you start with this one against a program, but remember the Tigers won 10 of 14 at home the last two seasons.
Top 25 Rankings: None.
Projected SEC East Finish: Fifth.
Off, Nov. 7
Vanderbilt, home, Nov. 14.
This is the surest thing to a Sure Win on the Wildcats’ schedule. Not only are the Commodores ranked No. 66 (last) among all Power Five programs by Pick Six Preview, they have already had at least five players, including three starters, opt out because of COVID-19.
Athlon Sports also thinks coach Derek Mason is in trouble. Athlon ranked Vandy No. 96, one spot behind Georgia Southern.
Top 25 rankings: None.
Projected SEC East Finish: Seventh
At Alabama, Nov. 21
Phil Steele said the Crimson Tide has the nation’s best offensive line, second-best group of running backs and linebackers, third-best collection of receivers, ninth-best secondary and 10th-best defensive line.
The weakest unit? Quarterback, where he ranks Bama No. 44.
Blitz, blitz, blitz and hope for the best.
Top 25 Rankings: Five — No. 2 Athlon; No. 3 Lindy’s; Street & Smith’s; Phil Steele; No. 5 Pick Six Preview.
Projected SEC West Finish: First.
At Florida, Nov. 28
Some people are predicting a trip to the playoffs for the Gators, and every magazine that I purchased has Florida in the Top 10. Although the Wildcats have only won once, four of the last five games against the Gators have been close. Phil Steele ranked Kyle Trask the second-best quarterback in the SEC.
Top 25 Rankings: Five — No. 3 Pick Six Preview; No. 5 Lindy’s; No. 6 Athlon; No. 7 Street & Smith’s; No. 10 Phil Steele.
Projected SEC East Finish: First.
South Carolina, home, Dec. 5
It’s year five for Will Muschamp in Columbia, and nobody fears the Gamecocks even as much as they feared them under Steve Spurrier or Lou Holtz. You don’t have to do a deep dive to find Muschamp on Hot Seat lists. He is 1-3 against Kentucky while coaching the Gamecocks and needs a big season from quarterback Ryan Hilinski even as he’s fortunate the Clemson game was canceled.
Top 25 rankings: None.
Projected SEC East Finish: Fifth
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