In a town where the August-to-October months are usually looked at as a breezy passing of time until basketball starts, football season has become relevant in Lexington.
Kentucky Wildcats coach Rich Brooks has taken a football program that once was the annual cellar-dweller of the SEC to a team opponents now worry about. The last two seasons, the Wildcats have won the Music City Bowl behind 8-5 records.
This season has started off where the last one ended. So with their 3-0 start, can the Wildcats have another 8-5-type season or is SEC play going to slow them down?
If the Wildcats want to keep the victories coming, then they will have to rely heavily on their defense. The defense has looked good, but it’s relatively untested. It shut out the Wildcats' biggest rival, the Louisville Cardinals, then only gave up a field goal to Norfolk State and two scores to Middle Tennessee State (a team with a win over Maryland). For the mathematically challenged, that’s a mere 17 points in three games.
Unlike last year, when the team featured prolific Andre Woodson under center, the offense was the big question mark coming into the season. No one had seen enough of
quarterback Mike Hartline to have any sort of idea of what he was capable of.
Hartline has proven himself early on, last week winning SEC Player of the Week when he went 28-of-47 for 254 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Besides Hartline, dual-threat freshman Randall Cobb has stepped up and taken some snaps at quarterback, throwing for one touchdown and rushing for two more.
Last season, the Wildcats had three legitimate threats in the passing game and all three are now playing on Sundays, leaving the Wildcats receiving corps depleted. In the first three games of the season, senior Dicky Lyons Jr. has established himself as the main target in the passing game.
So just how will the Wildcats finish this season? Look for them to lose their first game at Alabama. With a favorable home schedule, however, a game on the road against a bad Mississippi State squad, and my predicted bigtime upset over Georgia, expect the ‘Cats to finish this season one win better than the previous two.
I know 9-3 sounds optimistic, but the Wildcats have the defense to get the job done. With bigtime playmakers like Micah Johnson, Jeremy Jarmon, and Trevard Lindley, this defense is going to be very tough to score on.
The only real problem this Kentucky team is going to have is scoring enough points to win, but with the defense Kentucky has, 17 to 20 points could be all the offense it needs to win.
Offensive coordinator Joker Phillips might need to have a few tricks up his sleeve, and if he does, then 9-3 doesn’t seem like such a stretch for this rising football program.