On Sept. 2, the Kentucky Wildcats will kick off their football season against the Louisville Cardinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The Cards will host the battle for the Governor's Cup, and it will be a challenging game for the Wildcats right off the bat. This will be Round 3 between Joe "Joker" Phillips and Charlie Strong. The Cardinals appear to have the upper hand—it will prove very difficult for UK to leave "the Ville" with a win.
Settling on a quarterback is a priority for the Wildcats, who went 5-7 last season. On defense, replacing all-everything linebacker Danny Trevathan will be a big task. Former Tennessee commit Khalid Henderson is one of several who will give it a try.
La'Rod King and the rest of the receiving corps will need to continue to improve. It will be interesting to see what Knoxville, Tenn.-area product and true freshman running back Dy'shawn Mobley can do to help.
Kentucky will host Kent State in their home opener on Sept. 8. Like UK, the Golden Flashes went 5-7 last year as well and are used to stepping into SEC country. They played at Alabama last year and have made multiple trips to Lexington, Ky. in the past. Their last trip to Commonwealth Stadium was in 2007 with Kentucky winning 56-20.
The Wildcats lost two heartbreaking one-run games to Kent State in the NCAA baseball regional back in June. It will be nice to see the UK get a measure of revenge on the gridiron.
Up next is a home game against Western Kentucky on Sept. 15. To open the 2011 season, Kentucky beat the Hilltoppers 14-3 in Nashville, Tenn.. That game was way closer than it should have been and way closer than any Wildcats coaches, players or fans wanted it to be.
Both teams went in opposite directions after that game. WKU was 7-4 the rest of the way while UK was 4-7. Willie Taggart has Western headed in the right direction, but UK should hold them off at home.
Now, ready or not, it's time for conference play as UK opens SEC play on the road at Florida. More often than not, the games against Florida haven't been pretty, especially at The Swamp. Sadly, I don't see it changing this year.
The Wildcats close out September with a visit from the Ol' Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, and South Carolina. It shouldn't be as bad as last year's 54-3 whipping they suffered through in Columbia, S.C., but the Gamecocks will be a fight.
Mississippi State, UK's annual SEC West opponent, comes to town the following week. The Bulldogs are always a thorn in Kentucky's side. They won last year's meeting 28-16 in Starkville, Miss.. Once again, they'll find a way to win this year as well.
The grind that is life in the SEC continues with a trip to Fayetteville, Ark. on October 13 to face Arkansas. The Razorbacks are a lot weaker at head coach now that John L. Smith is in charge, but their player advantage will pull them through.
It doesn't get any easier when Georgia comes to town on October 20. Kentucky has had the Bulldogs on the ropes several times over the years, even winning 34-27 in Athens, Ga. in 2009. This year, the Bulldogs will show why they are the favorites to win the SEC East despite the injuries and disciplinary issues they are dealing with.
It's back on the road to Columbia, Mo., the following week to face SEC rookie Missouri. Unfortunately, the other James Franklin and the Tigers potent offense will be to difficult to slow down.
For years, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have battled for fifth place in the east division. But last year, Vandy vaulted ahead and had a strong season by its standards. The Commodores finished 6-6 in coach James Franklin's first season and were very competitive in several other games. They were literally a couple plays away from winning seven or eight games. UK was pounded 38-8 in Nashville last year and haven't yet closed the gap enough to knock off the Commodores.
After that gauntlet, the Cats will have a much-needed bye on November 10 before taking out some frustration against Samford at home on November 17.
It's on to Knoxville, Tenn. for the season finale against Tennessee. No one will ever forget the feeling last year when the clock wound down and Kentucky took a knee to beat the Vols 10-7 and end that horrible 26-year losing streak. Check out this clip in which Green Bay Packers wideout and former Cat Randall Cobb epitomized the feelings of every coach, player, former player, or alum. All of Big Blue Nation felt this way.
The only thing rarer than Tennessee basketball winning in Rupp Arena is the Cats winning in Neyland Stadium. Tennessee looks better, and it's doubtful that the Cats will be able to make it two in a row over the Vols.
So that brings Kentucky's record to 3-9 this season. It's just hard to see them having a lot of success this season.
Do I hope they prove me wrong? Absolutely.
Joe "Joker" Phillips has had two magical, euphoric signature wins in his time as UK head coach. The first was the 31-28 win over South Carolina in 2010 that gave Steve Spurrier his first-ever loss to Kentucky. The second was the streak buster against Tennessee last November.
Until these moments begin to occur more frequently, let's sit back, get ready for the season and hope we're pleasantly surprised.