Are you ready for some college football?
Well, I am and I have my annual fearless forecast for the 2014 Wildcats ready.
Will coach Mark Stoops’ Kentucky club improve over last season’s dismal mark of 2-10, winning zero SEC games?
They should be better this fall but many of the pre-season college football yearbooks such as Lindy’s Sports (Lindyssports.com) and Athlon Sports (AthlonSports.com) are still predicting a last-place finish in the seven-team SEC Eastern Division for the young Cats, who are headlined by star defensive ends Alvin “Bud” Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, both seniors.
Here’s a quick look in UK’s game-by-game schedule, which includes seven home contests:
UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE AT MARTIN (Aug. 30 in Lexington) — The Skyhawks, who are coming off a 7-5 campaign, have played respectable football in recent years under coach Jason Simpson, competing in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision. A former Mississippi State QB, Simpson has a coaching record of 52-39 in eight years at UTM.
UT Martin has a senior QB by the name of 5-10, 195-pound Dylan Favre, the nephew of ex-NFL star Brett Favre. Dylan, who spent two years at Mississippi State under coach Dan Mullen, has recently been named to the College Football Performance Awards as one of 36 quarterbacks on its national watch list for the 2014 season. He is one of the four players from the Ohio Valley Conference to earn a spot on the prestigious list.
Another Skyhawk player to watch out for is Tony Bell, a senior linebacker who has been named a 2014 Preseason All-American by various media outlets, including Sporting News and Athlon Sports.
UT Martin also has former Alabama signee and ex-West Virginia wide receiver Ronald Carswell, who recently joined the program. He will have two years of eligibility for the Skyhawks. UK by 17.
OHIO (Sept. 6 in Lexington) — Unlike the bowl-less Wildcats, the Bobcats, led by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich (who will be celebrating his 70th birthday a couple of days later on Sept. 8), went to a bowling party for the fifth straight time last season. Ohio dropped to East Carolina 37-20 in the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg to finish with a 7-6 record. Solich has done a good job at the Mid-American school. UK by 10.
FLORIDA (Sept. 13 at Gainesville) — The Gators are hungry after a poor 4-8 performance in 2013, marking the worst season at UF since 1979.
Kentucky hasn’t won in Swamp or beaten the Gators in ages. Florida owns a 27-game winning streak in the series. UF by 14.
VANDERBILT (Sept. 27 in Lexington) — No James Franklin, who has since moved on to greener pasture at Penn State in his home state of Pennsylvania. He was very good for Vanderbilt, leading the Commodores to a bowl game in each of his three seasons as head coach. The new Vandy boss is Derek Mason, the former associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Stanford of the Pac-12. UK by 3.
SOUTH CAROLINA (Oct. 4 in Lexington) — The ole’ ball coach by the name of 69-year-old Steve Spurrier is still around in the Gamecock country, beginning his 10th year at USC. The Gamecocks, a pre-season Top 10, will be the toughest test for the Cats at this point. USC by 12, dropping UK’s season record to 3-2.
LOUISIANA MONROE (Oct. 11 in Lexington) — Kentucky has faced the Warhawks four times, posting a 3-1 mark in the series. UK lost the first game (21-14) during Bill Curry’s awful 1-10 campaign in 1994 when ULM was then called Northeast Louisiana University. And the Warhawks nearly stunned the Cats before losing 42-40 during Rich Brooks’ 8-5 season in 2006.
UK is one of three SEC teams on ULM’s demanding schedule with the Warhawks also facing LSU and Texas A&M. UK by 21, improving its mark to 4-2.
LSU (Oct. 18 at Baton Rouge) — The personable Les Miles has been fun to watch on the sidelines and he knows how to win. You have seen the quotable LSU coach who has a tendency to “taste” grass from the field. The Tigers, coming off a 10-3 season, should be good again. A recent Athlon Sports poll of 15 college football experts has ranked Tiger Stadium — often called the Death Valley — as the best college football stadium along with having the best game-day atmosphere. LSU by 18.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (Oct. 25 in Lexington) — The Bulldogs, who are expected to go bowling again after a Liberty Bowl campaign in 2013, are favored at this point, but it’s a winnable matchup for the Wildcats. In last year’s contest at Starkville, MSU downed Kentucky 28-22 before a crowd of over 55,000. Bulldog QB Dak Prescot is back for his junior year and likes to rush for TDs. UK by 2.
MISSOURI (Nov. 1 at Columbia) — The Tigers surprised many folks with a remarkable 12-2 record in their second season in the SEC last fall and they smashed UK with a 48-17 blowout in Lexington. Both clubs will be going in the opposite direction with the Wildcats progressing and Missouri regressing. So there will be no blowout this time. Missouri is another beatable foe on UK’s schedule. The Tigers by 10.
GEORGIA (Nov. 8 in Lexington) — Like the South Carolina game, this will shape up as a very tough SEC battle for the Wildcats with Georgia being a pre-season Top 10 team. Coach Mark Richt has a big handful of returning starters (mostly on defense), including star RB Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs by 16.
TENNESSEE (Nov. 15 at Knoxville) — UT leader Butch Jones will be looking for his second straight victory against the Cats after winning 27-14 at Commonwealth Stadium. His Vols will struggle again this fall after a 5-7 performance in 2013, but will they have enough to beat Kentucky? UT by 6.
LOUISVILLE (Nov. 29 in Louisville) — Teddy Bridgewater is gone, but Bobby Petrino is back. What can I say? U of L by 6.
That means Kentucky concludes its season with a 5-7 mark, but a major three-game improvement over 2013.
And the future is definitely bright in the Mark Stoops era.