Tune into the Gulf Coast Sports Radio HourWednesday at four to hear Brian Scott and Michael Felder delve deeper into Kentucky, Duke and the SEC/ACC picture.
Biggest Offseason Loss
The Blue Devil’s biggest losses come in the departure of wide receiver Eron Riley. Riley was quarterback Thaddeus Lewis’ favorite target; having accounted for 693 of Lewis’ 2171 yards and 8 of his 15 touchdowns. Riley was a sure handed, speedy target capable of getting open down field and making the big play for the Devils.
Losing Michael Tauiliili; the middle linebacker who led the ACC and finished third in the nation in tackles should also be noted. However, his loss will not be felt as significantly as Riley’s due to the Devils returning solid contributors from last season’s defense.
For the Wildcats the biggest offseason loss up to just over a week ago was injury plagued fan favorite tight end Dicky Lyons Jr. That would change with the disqualification of Jeremy Jarmon for taking a banned substance. The senior’s career was ended as he failed a drug test for a dietary supplement that he failed to clear with the Kentucky athletic staff.
In losing Jarmon the Wildcats lose an All-SEC caliber defensive end as well as some serious, quality depth on the defensive front. The one year barring for a first offense has come under heavy scrutiny but the odds of Jarmon reversing the circumstances are highly unlikely.
Best Returning Players
In Durham this question gets a simple answer; Thaddeus Lewis. Lewis is the best pure pocket passer in the ACC and with the exception of the big names at the position the senior would be an upgrade for most schools.
He is, in effect, the anti-Graham Harrell; no gaudy or inflated statistics but a legitimate pro-styled quarterback who has received great tutelage under Cutcliffe and will have a legitimate shot at the next level.
Lexingtonwill see several very solid players return to campus headlined by Trevard Lindley. The 6’, 175 pound senior is among the nation’s elite at the cornerback position due to his instincts and closing speed. He’s got great anticipation as shown by his 11 passes defensed and 4 interceptions.
Lindley is a probable first rounder who will have to be spectacular for the Wildcat defense to truly step up with their inexperienced on the frontline.
Break Out Players
Donovan Varner will be tasked with filling Eron Riley’s shoes. The 5’9” sophomore out of Miami, Floridais the best athlete on Cutcliffe’s team and after playing corner, return man and a little receiver in 2008 Varner will use his talents on offense and in the return game exclusively.
As a full time receiver Varner has already flourished, catching six balls for 116 yards in the spring game last month. He gives Thaddeus Lewis a weapon capable of breaking the big run and a dangerous asset for Cutcliffe’s offensive mind to utilize.
While Varner will be asked to grow up and into his role in Durhamthe Wildcats will need their breakout player DeQuin Evans to come ready to play. Currently listed as the second on the depth chart the JUCO transfer will have his work cut out for him with the recent Jarmon dismissal.
Ranked the No. 15 JUCO prospect last season he totaled 19.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 63 tackles in fifteen games at Los Angeles Harbor College. He’s got a tremendous motor, solid ability and the body to compete immediately for Rich Brooks.
Three Crucial Games
Duke @ Kansas
Duke @ NC State
Duke vs Wake Forest
The Devils will have a shot at winning all of these games and to achieve Cutcliffe’s goal of a bowl appearance they will likely have to win all three. Heading to Lawrence will give the Blue Devils their first quality test of the season against a likely top 25 team. NC State, Wake Forest and a November date in Chapel Hill should all help Cut’s in-state recruiting goals if they can find a win.
Kentucky @ South Carolina
Kentucky @ Auburn
Kentucky @ Georgia
Kentucky found a way to get bowl eligible last season despite injuries, poor quarterback play and no true offensive identity. This season Hartline should be better, Randall Cobb will be a full time wide out and they have some quality running backs returning.
In playing USC, Auburn, and UGA on this down year the Wildcats have an opportunity to make some waves in these three swing games.
Dream vs Nightmare Season
For the Blue Devils their dream season is an 8-4 masterpiece by Cutcliffe. Getting the Devils to their first bowl game since Spurrier and putting them squarely in the thick of the ACC Coastal race.
Losses to VT, NC State, UNC, GT, and Miami appear to be inevitable however, stealing a win from one of those schools while completing their soft non-conference schedule while beating UVA, Wake and Maryland would land the Devils in a heavenly scenario.
On the flipside of the dream scenario is the Blue Devil nightmare. Losing all league games plus contests with FCS Richmond and Kansas would truly set the Blue Devils back into the “loser” stratosphere they’ve inhabited since the departure of Spurrier.
In Lexington the dream mark would be a 9-3 season and finishing second to Florida in the east. Losing to the machines from Gainesville and Tuscaloosaplus just one loss in the final three contests (UGA, Vandy, Tenn) would set the Cats up for their fourth straight bowl bid.
Nightmarishly speaking the Wildcats are only an injuries away from staring down the barrel of a 3-9 season. If Cobb and Hartline both struggle and suffer their offense would be incapable of point production to assist the stout defense Brooks will trot out this season.
Losing all their league games plus the rivalry game with Louisville is not out of the realm of possibilities given Brooks’ anemic 27 percent winning rate in SEC play.