Optimism is abound in the Bluegrass. It's obvious to anyone who wants to notice. Over 50,000 at a spring exhibition game (More than some home games last year.) The 2014 class is ranked #3 by Rivals right now, and many analysts are beginning to say the class will finish with a top 10 ranking. Commonwealth Stadium and other football facilities will be undergoing renovation. It's an exciting time to be a football fan in the Bluegrass.
This being said, we have to be realistic for year numero uno of the Stoops Era. There's not an abundance of SEC talent returning from last year, especially at the skill positions. On top of that, several of the most knowledgeable guys in college football say Kentucky has the nation's toughest schedule. While I don't expect Kentucky to win every game, I expect them to be a whole lot more competitive. With a new mindset, new faces, and a new atmosphere, I expect the Cats to give a few teams more than they want, and who knows, maybe pull an upset somewhere along the way.
So here, we'll go game-by-game and look at how we can expect each game to play out and see how year one turns out for the new-look Cats. For the sake of not making it one really long post, we'll break this into three segments, looking at four games at a time. Starting off, we'll look at WKU, Miami (OH), Louisville, and Florida.
The loss to Western was definitely one of the most bitter losses for last year's UK squad. The Cats' play was atrocious and they ended up losing on a trick play on a two-point conversion in OT. Cats players said at SEC Media Days that WKU disrespected them last year and they want to avenge the loss. This is also arguably the most important game on the schedule, as it could set the tone for the rest of the season. UK has to get this win to keep the positive momentum from the offseason rolling and keep fans interested. Western has lost a lot of players from last year, including starting QB Kawaun Jakes and DE Quanterus Smith. However, the Hilltoppers return Doak Walker candidate Antonio Andrews and Linebacker Andrew Jackson. This will definitely be a tough game for the Cats in Nashville, but ultimately, I think they pull out a close win.
Result: 24-10 Cats
This will be the home opener for Kentucky. Fan turnout is expected to be really high, or at least we hope so. Commonwealth Stadium needs to be packed to show that the excitement surrounding the football program is no fluke. That will be more likely if Kentucky defeats Western in Nashville, but nonetheless, it's the home opener of a new era. I don't really see Miami (OH) as a very serious threat, but this year, no team should be taken lightly. The Redhawks had a top 25 passing offense last year, but lost QB Zac Dysert and top WR Nick Harwell. They will be breaking in a new QB, with no proven receivers. Kentucky should advance to 2-0 on the young season, with a lot of optimism going into the Louisville game.
Result: 27-6 Cats
Kentucky should come into this game feeling pretty good. They would've already matched last year's win total and they are playing at home against their in-state rival. If the Cats come into this game at 2-0, I think Commonwealth will be rocking reminiscent to the '07 game. Louisville will come in as a sure-fire top ten team, and possible top 5. Louisville returns several players from last year, notably Heisman candidate QB Teddy Bridgewater and wide receivers Damian Copeland and Devante Parker. As painful as it is to say, the Cats are a few proven playmakers short of pulling off this upset. However, I think the game will be closer than what many believe.
Result: 27-17 Louisville
Let's face it, Kentucky regularly struggles with Florida. As much as I'd love to break the streak this year and pull off a huge upset, it just isn't likely. The game will be played at Commonwealth, so I believe that will help the Cats a little, but ultimately, they're not quite ready to defeat the Gators. Florida has one of the stingiest defenses in the country, and with an offense short on proven playmakers, that probably doesn't bode well for the Cats. Kentucky falls to 2-2 on the season, but fans and players are feeling better about the season than they did at this point last year.
Result: 33-21 Florida
At this point, Kentucky is 2-2 with losses to Florida and Louisville. The losses aren't blowouts, so the morale of the fans and players stays relatively steady. In the next preview, we will take a look at games against South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi State, and Alabama State.