By Jamie H. Vaught
We have now reached the midpoint of this wild college football season with an up-and-coming Kentucky club sporting a surprising 5-1 mark.
Now, with six games to go, including a homecoming date with top-ranked Mississippi State in less than two weeks, can Mark Stoops and his Wildcat troops come up with the school's winning record for first time since 2009?
Let's take a quick look at UK's upcoming opponents along with my updated predictions:
---LSU (at Baton Rouge), Oct. 18: Les Miles' squad improved to 5-2 overall (1-2 in SEC) after a three-point win at Florida last Saturday night. While the Tigers dropped to Mississippi State 34-29 in late September before its friendly crowd of 102,321, they later got clobbered at Auburn by a score of 41-7. LSU over UK by 12.
---MISSISSIPPI STATE (home), Oct. 25: The 6-0 Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in this week's AP Top 25 poll and are expected to stay there until they meet the Wildcats after a bye week. MSU, led by Heisman Trophy hopeful Dak Prescott, has been awesome after beating three straight SEC Western Division rivals LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn.
Bulldog coach Dan Mullen, who came to Starkville in 2009 from Florida where he was the offensive coordinator, is a hot property as the Gators and Michigan could be searching for a new boss pretty soon. Will he return to the Swamp? MSU by 17.
----MISSOURI (Columbia, Nov. 1): The Tigers were the SEC darlings last year, but not this time. Missouri, now 4-1, stunned the Gamecocks with a 21-20 road victory, but dropped to Georgia 34-0. It is a winnable contest for the Wildcats. Kentucky by 7.
----GEORGIA (home, Nov. 8): Coach Mark Richt, a Bobby Bowden disciple at Florida State, has lead the Dogs to a 5-1 worksheet, including victories over Clemson (45-21), Tennessee (35-32), Vanderbilt (44-17) and Missouri (34-0). A three-point loss at South Carolina was a disappointment in the Bulldog Country.
They are still pretty good without RB Todd Gurley, who has been suspended indefinitely. A letdown after a rivalry game with Florida in the previous weekend could be an advantage for the Wildcats. Kentucky by 3.
----TENNESSEE (Knoxville, Nov. 15): Like Stoops, Butch Jones is in his second year of rebuilding the Vol program. The Vols are currently 3-3, including two very close setbacks to Georgia (35-32) and Florida (10-9). Another winnable matchup for Kentucky. UT by 1.
----LOUISVILLE (away, Nov.29): The Thanksgiving weekend matchup between the heated rivals could be a fun one to watch. The Cardinals may be 5-2 with ACC losses to Virginia and Clemson, but they have to face No. 2 Florida State in ESPN's Thursday night matchup on Oct. 30 and No. 5 Notre Dame on Nov. 22.
Since U of L may be so beaten up after meeting the Irish in South Bend, it may be hard for the Cards to get through this regular season finale. Kentucky by 6, finishing its memorable season with a very respectable 8-4 record.
If my prediction holds true, it means the Cats would finish .500 in the second half of the season after a 5-1 first half.
Reasonable? Yes since Kentucky has at least three very beatable opponents remaining with a possible upset of a ranked team. Remember we are seeing a very different Wildcat team this time, unlike in the recent past.
UK has sure surpassed everyone's expectations, winning five games already with plenty to go after two straight horrible 2-10 campaigns, and it won't be long before we start discussing the possible bowl prospects for the Cats if they get the job done down the road.
Some Kentucky pigskin leftovers from last Saturday's dominating victory over Louisiana Monroe:
---Stoops was asked after the game if his Wildcats are a Top 25 team.
"I don't know," said the coach. "It doesn't matter. Just got to try to win. If you get enough wins in this league, you'll get your respect."
Kentucky got some votes in this week's AP Top 25 poll, ranking No. 30 with 36 votes, just behind No. 27 LSU.
---On the unbelievable one-handed catch -- a 21-yard TD reception -- by senior Javess Blue, QB Patrick Towles had this to say.
"The best catch I have ever seen," said Towles. "When I threw it, I said to myself, ‘Aw, I missed him.' He made hands-down the best play I have ever seen."
Added Blue, "I had to make the catch. I just squeezed the ball tight and prayed that I held it and was in bounds and then still happened to have it. I am looking forward to seeing it on TV. I’ll be up and ready. It’s probably not the best catch I’ve ever made, but it’s up there."
Blue also had a 83-yard TD reception in the second quarter, tying for the seventh-longest passing play in UK history.
----Freshman running back Stanley “Boom” Williams had a career-high 104 yards in seven carries, including a 58-yard TD run in the third quarter. His 75-yard kickoff return to open the game was also the longest kick return at Kentucky since 2009.
----Kentucky is on the verge of becoming eligible for a post-season bowl berth. It takes a minimum of six victories to qualify for a possible bowl invitation. Blue said that's a great feeling.
"It’s an amazing feeling because we couldn’t get to one last year so we made a goal to get a bowl this year and that’s what we promised the fans," he said. "We’re making that promise a reality."
---Towles said the Wildcats are still hungry for more.
"Yeah, it feels good (on being almost bowl-eligible halfway through the season), did a lot of hard work over the summer, we’re not satisfied with five wins," said the QB. "We’ll do whatever we can. We will take it one game at a time, and go down to LSU. It’s going to be a tough environment and a good team. I’m ready to go now."
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of the growing KySportsStyle360.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. Reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle360@gmail.com.