LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- That didn’t take long. The Southeastern Conference has yet to snap the football, and Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops is already throwing high and tight at the conferences that are underway in this novel coronavirus environment.

“Some of that football you see in other leagues, you are not going to see Saturday,” said Stoops, whose team opens at No. 8 Auburn this Saturday at noon. “There’s going to be nobody open. We have to create space. We have to get guys open. You have to work leverage. And the quarterback has to throw it in small windows.

“We play 10 SEC games, and I can promise you you’re not going to see that stuff where there’s green grass all over the place and easy throws and guys open. Because we’re not going to see that.”

Let’s call the roll of the Power Five leagues.

  • SEC: has not played.
  • Big Ten: won’t start until late October
  • Pac-12: officially, still undecided on playing
  • Big 12: played eight games but only one last weekend

Am I forgetting anybody?

Let me shoot an email to John Swofford, Dabo Swinney or Scott Satterfield to see if they have any idea what Stoops was discussing.

Nothing confirms the return of football that some Grade A, inter-conference trash talk.

It makes the start of the season official.

Here’s one group Stoops did not fire on: Auburn, even though the Tigers return only 10 starters from a squad that finished 9-4 last season, while beating Alabama and Oregon.

The last time Kentucky defeated a Top-25 team in the Wildcats’ season opener was ... 2002, when coach Guy Morriss, Jared Lorenzen, Dewayne Robertson and Jeremy Caudill turned coach John L. Smith, Dave Ragone and Louisville upside down for a 22-17 victory at (then named) Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

The last two seasons, the Wildcats have opened against Mid-American Conference teams that failed to finish with winning records.

In 2005, 2006 and 2012, Kentucky opened against ranked Louisville teams and lost.

This is different. This is daunting. But this is also a chance to legitimize the strides Kentucky football has made with Stoops.

The Wildcats are positioned to achieve something the program has not achieved in 18 years, although on Monday afternoon, Kentucky was listed as a seven-point underdog in Las Vegas.

It’s the start of 10 straight games against SEC opponents and zero games against Mid-American Conference opponents.

“It’s brutal,” Stoops said. “Brutally hard. I just shake my head in amazement at how difficult and how well-prepared each and every team we play is. That’s a challenge.”

Stoops, for the record, sounded like a guy who really likes his team, which he should.

Sixteen returning starters? Extremely valuable. One of the top five offensive lines in America? The remarkable work done by offensive line coach John Schlarman deserves applause.

“They were good a year ago,” Stoops said. “Hopefully they’ll take it to another level.”

Three backs who have looked capable of 1,000 yards, depending upon where offensive coordinator Eddie Gran funnels the carries? Stoops actually said UK has two more runners that he likes in addition to A.J. Rose, Christopher Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke.

The return of injured quarterback Terry Wilson? Stoops said Wilson’s knee is healthy and that he has advised his quarterback to turn it loose and go.

Questions?

Sure, Kentucky has some. Every team does. The receivers must help the passing game become more productive. The defense must overcome the absence of linebacker Chris Oats, a talented playmaker who will miss the season because of a medical situation.

Stoops said that every week a different UK player will wear No. 22, Oats’ number, to recognize their teammate.

“It’s the opener,” Stoops said. “It’s on the road, and it’s an early-morning kickoff. So starting fast is key. You’ve got to come out swinging. You’ve got to come out fast.”

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