Well, it wasn’t fun under the Joker, was it? Things went backwards. In 2010 the Wildcats went from 6-7 to 5-7 in 2011 to 2-10 in 2010. In fact, REALLY backwards. So much backwards that Kentucky are eating $4.5m over the next 2 years NOT to have him as the head coach. They replace him with Mark Stoops, the former defensive co-ordinator at Florida State and brother of Oklahoma coach Bob, who’s re-ignited the passions of a fanbase with some bold talk, some good recruiting (29th in the country in 2013), and some exciting co-ordinators.

Last year, it wasn’t funny. After blown out by their most hated rival Louisville on opening weekend, the Cats then beat Kent State, before then becoming the embarrassment of the SEC by losing to Western Kentucky. But it got worse. Joker’s team lost easily against Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, at struggling Arkansas, and in heartbreaking fashion at home to Georgia, before losing by 13 at a very poor Missouri team, and 40-0 at Vanderbilt. They beat Samford comfortably, before losing by 20 to Tennessee. Phillips was fired before the Tennessee game.

So what happens this year?

AIR RAID! AIR RAID!

Offensively, Kentucky’s offense looks to be much more exciting that in previous years. New co-ordinator Neal Brown, who had fun at Texas Tech for three years with his empowered offences, is back at his alma mater to frighten the hell out of SEC defenses. It’s great that he’s saying all of this.

A lot of love came out for Whitlow in Kentucky’s Spring Game, where he proved to be a useful dual threat QB. He’s widely expected to take the QB reins ahead of Towles and Smith. It’s interesting, because all three of them are pretty useful quarterbacks – which should please new coach Mark Stoops. UK’s offensive line has taken a beating with the leaving of Matt Smith and Larry Worford, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see UK’s QBs struggling against a tough schedule.

A lot will be expected of RBs Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George this year, who will be asked to share some of the offensive load, as will wide receiver Demarco Robinson.

If Neal Brown’s offense can score some points – and it seems likely that it can if the years at Texas Tech are anything to go by – the Wildcats – on one side of the ball – are going to frighten some people. And it all starts in earnest on the first day of the season against Western Kentucky in Nashville.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BALL?

Much pressure will be on DJ Eliot in his first job as a defensive co-ordinator after coming to Lexington with Stoops, where he was defensive line coach. The ‘Noles were frightening defensively in 2011 and 2012, and Wildcats fans will be hoping for more of the same – albeit without Bjorn Werner and all of the other talent that chose to play in Tallahassee.

Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith tore it up as pass rushers in the Spring – but can they do the same against ‘proper’ SEC offenses? Linebacker Avery Williamson can also cause damage, and there’s talk of Khalid Williamson being a potential star. Secondary-wise, Ashley Lowery has recovered from a May car wreck (he’s since been cited for DUI, so there goes OUR sympathy), and the ‘Cats will be hoping that he leads a very young unit.

This will be Kentucky’s achilles heel – this year at least.

SCHEDULE

Aug. 31: vs. Western Kentucky (Nashville)
Sept. 7: MIAMI (OHIO)
Sept. 14: LOUISVILLE
Sept. 28: FLORIDA
Oct. 5: at South Carolina
Oct. 12: ALABAMA
Oct. 26: at Mississippi State
Nov. 2: ALABAMA STATE
Nov. 9: MISSOURI
Nov. 16: at Vanderbilt
Nov. 23: at Georgia
Nov. 30: TENNESSEE

A lot of SEC teams would see two opening games against WKU and Miami (Ohio) and immediately pencil in victories, but we’re a little more conservative. Kentucky’s weak secondary will face one of the top receivers in the nation in Miami’s Nick Harwell in Week 2, and we already know what happened in Week 1 the last time these two played, don’t we? Wildcats fans would be overjoyed if they come through unscathed. Well, we don’t predict that Kentucky will come out with any victories from their games against Louisville, Florida or on the road against South Carolina, and the Alabama home game’s not even going to close, either. They could spring a surprise at Mississippi State depending on what’s happening to Tyler Russell and that offense, and we predict they’ll win the Alabama State game comfortably, and get their first SEC victory of the year at home to Missouri. They’ll then lose at Vanderbilt and Georgia, before coming close – but again not getting a cigar – against Tennessee.

BOTTOM LINE: I think Kentucky goes 4-8 this year, but shows great improvement. Mark Stoops will be happy to get a SEC victory under his belt, and the games against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Mississippi State could really go either way.

 

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