By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Well, the bad news is in. The preseason football publications are out and the predictions for UK Football for the 2018 season are pretty grim.
Street & Smith’s preseason prediction has Kentucky finishing in sixth place in the SEC East only ahead of Vanderbilt. They have Tennessee – with first year coach Jeremy Pruitt – in the fourth spot and Missouri picked to finish in the fifth spot.
USA Today has also picked UK to finish in sixth place in the East Division. So does 247Sports. Here’s where it really hurts. 247Sports has picked UK to finish with a 1-7 SEC record. Ouch!
But why so many glum predictions for UK Football this year? Mark Stoops will have his most experienced team since he arrived as the UK Head Coach in 2013. His three year trend for wins in the SEC has UK at No. 9 overall in the SEC with a 10-14 record.
That doesn’t look great but it is better than South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt over that same three-year span. Stoops does have big shoes to fill with the graduation of “Mr. Everything” quarterback Stephen Johnson and the loss of defensive end Denzil Ware to transfer could really hurt.
But UK still has plenty of high-caliber players like Benny Snell, Mike Edwards, CJ Conrad and Lynn Bowden. They also have several newcomers that should help.
In fact, what if all the prognosticators are wrong? What if Jeremy Pruitt’s first year at Tennessee doesn’t go as smooth as everyone predicts it will? What if Missouri’s high powered offense can’t get going like it did last year?
Florida – with first year coach Dan Mullen – might not hit the ground running like so many expect. And speaking of Dan Mullen what about first-year head coach Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State? Maybe the players take a while to adjust to Moorhead’s new offensive system. There is something to be said for consistency from year to year to help a team be successful.
What if either Gunnar Hoak or Terry Wilson steps right into the quarterback spot and the offense really clicks next season? What if Benny Snell and AJ Rose are both 1,000 yard rushers next season like Benny and Boom Williams were in 2016.
Or maybe Lynn Bowden becomes the next Randall Cobb and surprises everyone next season.
Maybe the defensive secondary plays up to their potential and locks down every passing offense they go against next season. What if the defensive line steps up and becomes a complete run-stopping machine? These things are not impossible. The problem is that analysts believe that prior results determine future outcomes. To be honest they can, if the players read them and believe them.
But they could also believe this. UK was a couple of plays away from finishing the regular season 9-3. A missed assignment here and a completed pass there and this UK team could have had a shot at a New Year’s Day bowl. They could have been the surprise team of the SEC.
So this year the players — and the fans — need to ignore the prognosticators and write their own prediction. This one would say that UK will upset several blue-blood teams from the SEC East along with arch rival Louisville and finish the season 9-3.
They will play in a New Year’s Day Bowl and win it to finish the season 10-3. Now that’s a prediction UK players and fans can get behind.