It’s September, fall is on its way, and home springs eternal once again for the fan base of the Kentucky Wildcats football team. National media projections ranging from 5-7 to 8-4 have been spotted, but after nearly a month of fall camp, it’s time to take it on the field.
For the record, both I and editor Jamie Vaught have projected a 7-5 regular season for the Wildcats. But there’s a ton of football between now and then, and let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
First things first—starting with Saturday’s season opener against the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette.
WHERE WE’RE GOING
It’ll be a revamped (and judging from the photos, probably vastly unfinished) Commonwealth Stadium that is unveiled on Saturday. More seatbacks, fewer seats, etc. And hopefully, it’ll be a loud and alive stadium, because Louisiana-Lafayette is legitimate. Quick—which FBS teams have won 9 or more games for each of the last four seasons? Oregon. And Louisiana-Lafayette. That’s it.
If La-Laf is going to be successful on Saturday, it will likely start and end with RB Elijah McGuire. McGuire ran for 1264 yards and a 7.6 yards per carry average in 2014. In two seasons, he has gained over 3000 yards rushing and receiving. In La-Laf’s four losses last season, McGuire totaled 33 carries for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns. In their nine wins, he amassed 1106 yards on 133 carries, with 12 rushing touchdowns. As McGuire goes, so goes Lafayette.
The Cajuns are breaking in a new QB—junior Brooks Haack. He threw just 23 passes last year, so he is relatively untested. The passing game looks like nothing special.
Defensively, La-Laf is an aggressive team. Senior LB Dominique Tovell is the heart of the defense, and La-Laf has added some defensive coaches from Auburn to their staff. Lafayette held opponents to only 73% scoring in the red zone, and they were +3 on turnovers for the season. La-Laf totaled 84 tackles for loss in 2014, including 32 sacks.
The kicking game is something of an unknown, as the Cajuns were debut some freshmen specialists. Kentucky could exploit this inexperience.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR FROM UK
Since we don’t have a past game to review, here are five predictions for things we might see from the Wildcats on Saturday.
1) A big game for the tight ends. Freshmen Conrad and Long are names that should become familiar. In the past, having a reliable tight end turned UK’s offenses from decent to explosive. Hopefully, we’ll see more of the same.
2) Big time play from the young guys defensively. With Cory Johnson and Jason Hatcher both suspended, it’s time for some of the talented youngsters on defense to make a statement.
3) A very solid game from Towles, and some playing time for Drew Barker. There isn’t a QB controversy, there won’t be one, but Stoops would be foolish not to get some snaps for Barker.
4) One of UK’s receivers to rise about the rest. On paper, this is a deep and talented UK receiver group. But it’s time for somebody to become first among equals—Garrett Johnson? Jeff Badet? The elusive and drop-prone Ryan Timmons? We’ll see.
5) A win. Five more to go after Saturday.
UL-Lafayette is legitimate. But so is Kentucky. Year three will get off to a fine start. UK 38, UL-L 24.
AROUND THE CONFERENCE
My Preseason rankings:
SEC West Alabama Auburn Ole Miss LSU Arkansas Texas A&M Mississippi State
SEC East Georgia Missouri Tennessee South Carolina Kentucky Florida Vandy
MY CLUELESS PREDICTIONS
Here goes nothing: South Carolina 27, North Carolina 21 WKU 38, Vanderbilt 27 UK 38, UL-Laf 24 Georgia 45, UL-Monroe 7 Ole Miss 42, UT-Martin 3 Auburn 35, Louisville 34 Arkansas 49, UTEP 17 Tennessee 38, Bowling Green 21 Missouri 45, SEMO 3 Arizona State 31, Texas A&M 24 Florida 49, New Mexico St. 6 LSU 45, McNeese St. 14 Mississippi State 45, Southern Miss 10
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written four books involving UK sports, with the newest, The Kentucky Wildcat Fans’ Bucket List (with Ryan Clark) due on November 1, 2015. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.