SEC Preview: Kentucky Wildcats Vs. Louisville Cardinals

Jesse MitchellCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2009

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 8:  Head coach Rich Brooks of the Kentucky Wildcats looks on during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Commonwealth Stadium on November 8, 2008 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

We've all heard that the SEC is struggling with out-of-conference opponents, and we have all heard how Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss, Georgia, and LSU are the only teams that matter in the conference as well.

There are now murmurs and rumblings coming from Fayetteville that maybe these Razorbacks are pretty good, too. And let's not forget the challenge good ole Vanderbilt put on the vaunted LSU defense.

All this chatter has allowed the Kentucky Wildcats to quietly slip under everyone's radar. They are totally looked over, and an ACC writer has put them as one of the worst three teams in the conference (with Mississippi State and Vanderbilt).

All this finds Kentucky with the best team it has fielded in years, and they go into this week's game against the Louisville Cardinals as two-touchdown favorites. This is uncharted territory.

Once considered the game Rich Brooks could not win, his team has won the last two (after losing four in a row). We will find out just how good Kentucky is over the next two weeks when both Florida and Alabama come calling in Lexington. Both seem to have looked past the Wildcats, so these could be upset alerts.

But to our task at hand. Bobby Petrino really left Coach Kragthorpe a mess. While Petrino was traveling the country looking for jobs that paid better than his "basketball school's" football salary, Coach Brooks was busily picking up all-star recruits and building a football team, the quality of which hasn't been seen since Bear Bryant prowled the sidelines.

There now exists a gap in every area of the teams from recruiting to any stat you care to look up, all with Kentucky on top.

Saturday has the Wildcats' 22 starters with 242 games of starting experience against Louisville's 128. Quality fourth and fifth year starters just do not exist on the Cardinals' sideline.

In the defensive line you will find one of Coaches Brooks and Phillips few areas of concern. The trenches are where games are won and lost and may have not made much of a difference in Kentucky's opener against Miami (Ohio) or Saturday against the Cardinals, but will make all the difference on Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 against the nation's best two offensive lines.

In Kentucky's season opener, the defensive line generated four tackles, no sacks, and two QB hurries. That doesn't look very well, but on the good side, they stuffed the run, only allowing 77 yds.

Sure, that is what the line is supposed to do, right? Occupy the blockers so the defensive backfield can make dynamic plays while closing all the gaps and lanes in the trenches. Still, not a very stellar show.

Thankfully, even with the loss of all four defensive ends, Kentucky fields a decent linebacker corps, and what some consider the second best secondary in the East division, behind Tennessee.

Louisville is not totally void of talent, with running back Victor Anderson and a dynamic group of receivers that will keep the Wildcat's secondary well occupied, which demands that the defensive line steps up and rookie defensive ends DeQuin Evans and Chandler Burden play more aggressively and put pressure on the quarterback as often as possible without missing their assignments (Louisville's QB is Justin Burke, who is a good pocket passer when given time).

Kentucky's defensive coordinator, Steve Brown, acknowledges the challenges and promises more aggression with several blitz packages he implemented during the off week. He has received orders from Coach Brooks to "turn the defensive ends loose" and see what they can do.

Kentucky's offense is the explosive type that any coach can appreciate. With Mike Hartline, Joker Phillips can dial up the spread, ground and pound, options, screens, and just about anything else you can think of.

Not to mention, this squad can execute. In their 42-0 shutout in week one, they did whatever they wanted with success.

Of course, we do not know if they are that good or Miami's defense was that bad. We will know by Sunday of next week if the Wildcats are for real, but this week I see Kentucky coming up with a big victory.

It will be big because it is a "W" over their hated rivals, not necessarily on the scoreboard. Usually rivalries are played close, but I do not see it this year.

Kentucky could probably hang 50 points on this squad if they wanted, but Brooks' goal is to get a comfortable enough lead to allow his starters to be pulled to keep them fresh for next weeks showdown with the Florida Gators.

But still, Kentucky 35, Louisville 3.