By LARRY VAUGHT
The way things are going, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops is going to have to revise his pregame motivation speeches for the Wildcats this season.
After receiving little national acclaim the last two years despite winning 18 games and two bowl games, Kentucky is getting a lot of preseason love this year whether it is ranking the job Stoops has done or rating Drake Jackson as the nation’s best returning center or naming punter Max Duffy a preseason All-American.
Now it is Southeastern Conference preview issue, Athlon Sports has three writers picking Kentucky as the “sleeper team” in the SEC.
Now Athlon still picked UK fourth in the SEC East behind Florida, Georgia and Tennessee — three teams the Cats have continued to struggle to defeat even under Stoops.
The preview suggests that Kentucky’s defense should be as strong in 2020 as 2019 and has a backfield “stocked with options” to run behind an offensive line that is among the best in the nation.
The story suggests UK’s rise in the SEC East will depend on how 2018 starting quarterback Terry Wilson comes back from the knee injury suffered in game two last year that ended his year.
Remember UK was picked to finish sixth in the SEC last year with Wilson returning off a 10-3 season and still managed to go 8-5 even after he was hurt thanks to Lynn Bowden. Wilson was the first player in school history to throw for 1,500 plus yards and rush for 500 plus yards in the same season in 2018 when UK won 10 games for just the third time in school history and first time in 41 years.
And if that is not enough for you, 247Sports’ Barton Simmons said during a recent podcast that because few people have UK as a SEC dark horse team, the Cats could be underestimated by some teams.
“Here’s Kentucky. The team everyone is counting out. All they have is just a sick offensive line. A few different running backs that can get you yards. All of a sudden they have some depth at quarterback and some options at quarterback. Their defense is going to be great. And they got a head coach that’s going to continue to be able to say ‘Everyone is counting us out, boys,’” Simmons said.
However, based on what I keep reading and hearing nationally, I think far fewer folks are counting UK out this year than they have for a long, long time.