Kentucky hopes to be SEC East dark horse
This is the third teeam in the SEC football preview series:
Kentucky sat home duing the bowl season for six straight times until last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl.
Wildcat fans not only want that streak to continue but they also hope Kentucky can move up the ladder in the SEC East.
In 2016, the Wildcats went 7-6, their first winning season in four years under Mark Stoops.
A 41-38 upset of the Louisville Cardinals and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was a great acheivement and even a 33-18 bowl loss to Georgia Tech can’t dampen the Wildcats’ expectations in 2017.
With the bulk of the offense returning, the Wildcats could be quite dangerous on that side of the ball.
The key to a successful season could rest on how well the defense plays.
Kentucky is favored to win in six games including Southern Mississippi (85.4 percent chance to win), Eastern Kentukcy (98.7) and Eastern Michigan (92.9), along with SEC foes Missouri (60.6), Mississippi (60.5) and Vanderbilt (52.3).
The key game for the Cats in the SEC East is on Sept. 16 when they visit South Carolina (40.0).
A win over the Gamecocks could give Kentucky enough momentum to be 5-1 at the midway point.
Kentucky will be the underdog at home against Florida (38.1) at Mississipi State (44.6), against Tennessee (40.0), at Georgia (21.0) and against rival Louisville (35.5).
Any upset wins in that group of games and the Wildcats could be a spoiler in the SEC East.
The last ten-win season was in 1977 but if they can steal a win against Florida, anything is possible.
But Wildcat fans shouldn’t bet the horse farm on Sept. 23 because 1986 was the last time Kentucky beat the Gators.
A strong runnimg game will help the Cats this season if they can build on ast year’second-most rushing yards in program history with 3,044 yards.
2016 freshman All-American Benny Snell will be joined by speedsters Sihiem King and A.J. Rose.
Snell cranked up three straight 100-yard games against Mississippi State, Missouri and Georgia last season, handling the ball 38 times for 192 yards and two scores against the Tigers.
Quarterback Stephen Johnson leds the way against six other quarterback to return as the starter.
Former starter Drew Barker or Gunnar Hoak will battle Johnson for playing time with Luke Wright, Davis Mattingly Walker Wood and Danny Clark also on the roster.
The offensive line could be among the best in the league and veteran wide receivers return, led by seniors Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker.
The secondary leads the way with All-SEC contender Mike Edwards at safety and two-year starters Chris Westry and Derrick Baity at cornerback.
Junior weak-side linebacker Jordan Jones (6-2, 221) was among the most productive defensive players in the league last season with 109 tackles (15.5 tackles for a loss)
Junior outside linebackers Denzil Ware and Josh Allen should account for much of Kentucky’s pass rush as the linebacking corps could be one of the team’s biggest strengths.
Defensive tackle Naquez Pringle (6-3, 320) had 39 tackles and a sack and the Wildcats need him to dominate upfront.
When you think of the SEC West – the favorites are usually Alabama, Auburn or LSU.
But in the SEC East – Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri have all gone to the SEC title game in the last decade.
Georgia, Florida and Tennessee hold the mantle of favorites in the East this season, but Kentucky could be a dark horse.
Sept 2 at Southern Miss
Sept 9 E. Kentucky
Sept 16 at S. Carolina
Sept 23 Florida
Sept 30 E. Michigan
Oct 7 Missouri
Oct 21 at Miss. State
Oct 28 Tennessee
Nov 4 Mississippi
Nov 11 at Vanderbilt
Nov 18 at Georgia
Nov 25 Louisville