After a few days off and some traveling to different SEC campuses, we are now back to continue our preview and predictions of teams in the SEC conference.
Today, we take a look at the Kentucky Wildcats, who have quickly went from being a team you could look past on the schedule, to another good, solid SEC team.
Coach Rich Brooks has really turned this team around, and there has not been this much excitement in the Bluegrass State about football since Bear Bryant took the wildcats to their only SEC Championship.
As we all know, Kentucky is a basketball school and is not supposed to win four bowl games in a row, right? But here they are, with what looks to be as good, if not a better team than last year.
Somehow, I managed to finaggle my way into their scrimmage this past weekend, which isn't easy to do without press credentials, but an ESPN staffer felt sorry for me and took me in under his wing.
What sticks out about this team the most is that they are really a team. They hang out together (even in the off-season), stick together, and are all rip-roaring and ready to prove that they are a legitimate SEC team.
They do have some areas of concern, particularly on defense. They should still have a decent defense, but with no defensive ends listed on the roster, it will be interesting to see how they pull it off. Because as we all know, decent defenses do not win in the SEC-you must have an awesome defense to hang with the other eleven teams.
But the news is not all bad on that side of the ball.
In the annual Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list (which features 17 SEC players, more than any other conference), Kentucky has both Linebacker Micah Johnson and Cornerback Trevard Lindley on the list. And they are leaders too; and there are plenty of linemen capable of sliding over to end.
Another concern is that Randall Cobb, which is the Wildcats version of Tim Tebow, has been having some back issues.
While his MRI's have been negative for any disc problems, he was flown to Columbus, Georgia to see a back specialist and has not practiced all week. He will return to the field Thursday, but whether he will practice or not is unclear.
In his remarks after the scrimmage, Coach Brooks said they are leaning toward back spasms as Cobbs problem, which could be fixed by a new stretching routine. Whether that's the case, or the coach is trying to avoid a Lexington panic remains to be seen.
But I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if the defense steps up, Kentucky can have a 9 win season.
Now, hold on a second before you laugh and write me a nasty comment.
Joker Phillips will have this offense humming with Mike Hartline and Randall Cobb, and if a Brooks team is going to go all the way and threaten for the SEC CS, this is the year. Because next year, you will be barely able to recognize this squad.
Their schedule favors them as well, with a very soft non-conference lineup that includes Miami (OH), Louisville, Louisuana-Monroe and Eastern Ketucky. While Loiusville is a huge rivalry, the Wildcats will have no problems with any of these games, which will make them bowl eligible in themselves.
They will play Florida at home, and this one will be close like it was last year; but the Cats will drop this one to the Gators in a very physical game.
They also have the benefit of playing Alabama at home as well (which, if I can get press credentials for, I plan on being on the sideline for). But coming a week after a bruising Florida game, I don't think the Wildcats will pull an upset here either. But you also have to keep in mind that Kentucky always plays 'Bama close and almost beat them last year in Tuscaloosa. This game will be a close one, but a loss, nevertheless. If they played this game at a different place on the schedule, it would probably be too close to call.
Rich Brooks has never beaten South Carolina, but this is the year that it will finally happen; and they will pick up a much needed win over Auburn the next week as well.
See where this is going? Already bowl eligible with 5 games still to play.
After the Louisiana-Monroe game, they will solidly beat Mississippi State at home, followed by wins at home against Eastern Kentucky and a revenge win over Vanderbilt. Vandy beat the Cats last year, and they are itching to return the favor because the player's legitimately believe that the Commodores didn't beat them, but that they beat themselves.
They must then travel to Athens where they will put up a good fight, but lose this one to the Georgia Bulldogs. They then go on to Knoxville to put Lane Kiffin's first season to rest after a convincing win.
End result: Kentucky Wildcats will finish 9-3. I know they have a reputation for losing games they should win, and winning where they should lose, but that is also what the coaches have focused on this off-season.
And this Kentucky team may even pull off an upset against any three teams I picked them to lose to. We know they have the talent, but do they have the drive?