Hello, college football, our old friend. We’ve come to talk about you again.
After consecutive 7-6 seasons which included a fair share of highs and a few disappointing near-misses, University of Kentucky football will set forth on the 2018 season on Saturday, with hopes higher than usual. Junior running back Benny Snell earned All-SEC honors, and a defense -- including returning veterans Mike Edwards, Josh Allen and Jordan Jones -- could be the most talented seen in Lexington in several years.
Last week, I forecast the season, calling for a 7-5 slate that is above the expectations of many, especially in the national media, but below those of many local writers, including our own Jamie Vaught and Mark Story, each of whom called for 8-4 seasons. That journey starts on Saturday against Central Michigan. Let’s get a closer look at the Chippewas.
The Chippewas of the Mid-American Conference are in their fourth season under coach John Bonamego. CMU has reached bowl games in each of the last four seasons. They went 8-5 in 2017, and in 2016, upset No. 22 Oklahoma State in a wild finish of a game.
That said, consensus is that CMU is a bit down this year. QB Shane Morris is gone, and this year’s starter, sophomore Tony Poljan, passed for just 78 yards off the bench last year. CMU does return junior Jonathan Ward, who rushed for 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. That said, he also insulted Benny Snell this week by claiming to not know who the UK back is. Odds are, he’ll known Saturday evening. Ward is also the top returning receiver on the team, as no other returning player eclipsed 10 catches or 132 yards last year. CMU also replaces three offensive line starters from a team that rushed for only 3.9 yards a carry last year.
Defensively, CMU struggled at times in 2017, giving up 27.5 points per game. They do return two of their top three tacklers, linebackers Malik Fountain (89 tackles) and Alex Briones (83 tackles, three sacks). Up front, Nate Brisson-Fast is their best pass rusher (5.5 sacks last year), and CB Sean Bunting, who picks off five passes in 2017, will lead the secondary.
How will Kentucky attack CMU? With new QB Terry Wilson taking his first FBS snaps, there will likely be plenty of Benny Snell and some play-action passes, perhaps to C.J. Conrad, early. CMU’s linebackers could make some plays, but they are green in the secondary.
Kentucky has struggled in recent openers, losing to Southern Miss in 2016, and winning against the Golden Eagles in 2017 and against Louisiana-Lafayette in 2015 by just a touchdown in each game. Can Kentucky show some distance between themselves and a lower-tier FBS squad?
The guess here is that they can and will. If Kentucky will ever field a good defense under Mark Stoops, the time may be now. This game may not be pretty, but it should be solid.
UK 34, CMU 10.
Other SEC Predictions
Alabama 48, Louisville 7
Auburn 27, Washington 20
Mississippi State 52, Stephen F. Austin 6
Miami 23, LSU 21
Arkansas 59, Eastern Illinois 10
Texas Tech 35, Mississippi 34
Georgia 52, Austin Peay 0
Florida 49, Charleston Southern 7
South Carolina 45, Coastal Carolina 10
Missouri 63, UT-Martin 7
West Virginia 34, Tennessee 21
Vanderbilt 22, MTSU 21
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written seven books, with the eighth to come in 2019. His most recent, "The Immaculate Inning," was released in February 2018 and can be ordered on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.