By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
The calendar says that summertime is here and it appears that the NCAA powers that be are getting ready to allow athletes to return to campus for voluntary workouts. That means actual college football could be just around the corner.
If the college football season were to open up as planned it appears from what some of the college football prognosticators are saying UK’s season could be anywhere from mediocre to very similar to last year’s.
Today’s article is kind of a grab bag of different views that have come out in the last week that could add up to where UK Football may be this fall. So let’s dig in.
First of all, ESPN recently issued their Football Power Index picks for the toughest schedules in the SEC. At first glance it would appear that Kentucky could be in pretty good shape if the FPI is accurate in its predictions (that’s a big if). It shows UK having the 32nd toughest schedule in the country. Now, that may not seem to be very promising until one compares it to some of the other teams in the SEC.
Five SEC schools are listed in the Top 10 for toughest schedules in the country. South Carolina starts it off at No. 2 followed by Alabama at No. 3, then LSU at No. 4 with Arkansas at No. 7 and Ole Miss at 9.
The next group is Auburn at No. 11, Tennessee at 14, then Mississippi State comes in with the 16th toughest and Georgia is at 18 with Vanderbilt at 30.
Then we get to UK at 32. Only Texas A&M, Florida and Missouri rank below UK in the SEC with Missouri having the “easiest” schedule at 54th toughest in the country.
So what does this all mean? Well, to me it means that all things being equal UK should have an easier time beating their competition than anyone in the SEC East except Florida and Missouri.
So, if that is true, why in a different unrelated article would CBS Sports pick UK to finish 6-6 next season? This is a UK squad that returns almost all it’s offensive starters from an 8-5 team last season along with many of its defensive starters as well. Then throw in a potentially healthy Terry Wilson at quarterback and one would think that UK should do at least as well as last season. Especially with the 11th toughest schedule in the SEC. But CBS doesn’t seem to think so. Their crystal ball sees 6 losses in the future for UK. They pick the Wildcats to lose to Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, Auburn and Tennessee. That would mean UK would have its worst season since 2015 when they finished 5-7. CBS also picked Kentucky to finish next to last in the SEC East, ahead of Vanderbilt, with a 2-6 SEC record.
Now, that leads me to the last football tidbit I noticed last week. And with this prediction the football crystal ball seems to get even cloudier. First we have UK with an easier schedule than ten other teams in the SEC, they are returning a boatload of starters from a team that finished 8-5 last season after losing all of their quarterbacks to injury and CBS Sports picks them to be a bottom feeder in the SEC at 2-6.
Knowing all that, Sporting News issued their predictions for next season’s bowl games and listed Kentucky playing Iowa State in the Autozone Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The last time an SEC school played in the Liberty Bowl was 2018 when an 8-4 Missouri lost to a 6-6 Oklahoma State team. In last season’s Liberty Bowl Navy at 10-2 defeated 8-4 Kansas St. That would make one think that a 6-6 UK Football wouldn’t be considered a high enough quality team to be selected for a bowl at the level of the Liberty Bowl.
So throwing all that information together it appears that, like last year’s Kentucky team, this UK team will most likely finish better than the predicted 6-6 but may not reach the level of the Benny Snell-led team that finished 10-3 in 2018. Even though their schedule is the 10th toughest in the SEC it is still the 32nd toughest in the country. No one knows if Terry Wilson will be 100% healthy, if Auburn transfer quarterback Joey Gatewood will be granted immediate eligibility or if the UK defense will be able to plug a few holes at linebacker and in the secondary. If they can do all those things, and do them well, along with continuing the dominate running game they demonstrated in 2018 and 2019,
I believe they could be the sleeper pick in the SEC next season. There’s no reason to think that a drop off in rushing production should occur knowing that Kentucky has been touted as having one of the two best offensive lines in the SEC. That means if Terry Wilson can run the ball well from the quarterback position and throw for enough yardage to keep opposing defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage it would appear this 2020 team could be a team that would finish in the top 3 in the SEC East with a shot at a higher finish if they can avoid injuries to key players and at key positions.
Overall, in the wishy-washy world of college football predicting, it would appear that there is still no clear cut view of what this UK Football team will be like next season. But in my opinion one thing is for sure, they will go as far as the quarterback play will take them. Everything else about next year’s Cats appears to be very solid. I guess CBS Sports just hasn’t figured that out yet.