Preview 2017: Can Kentucky Really Win The East?
It’s all coming together at once, but Kentucky really win the East?
Is it actually possible? Can Kentucky win the SEC East?
If we’re talking about the West, forget about it. But in the East – with two okay Missouri teams and two above-average Florida squads taking the division over the last four years – why not?
As mediocre as Kentucky was last season, it still entered November with the puck on its stick with a shot at taking the division. Losing a tight battle with Georgia and a shootout to Tennessee ended that, but for a program that hasn’t been anything more than a reason to pass the time before basketball season kicks in, now, under Mark Stoops, there really and truly is a reason to think that it’s possible.
And here’s the problem. Kentucky might be building something strong under Stoops, and now the expectations are reasonably set at bowl-game-or-bust – Stoops probably isn’t around if UK whiffed on bowl eligibility again – but Georgia appears to be on the verge of figuring it out. Tennessee and Florida are always going to be okay, Missouri is going to be better, South Carolina is finding its post-Spurrier footing, and Vanderbilt isn’t going to be a speedbump.
Again, the East isn’t the West – there’s no Alabama – but this might be the year to do it. If Kentucky is going to shock the college football world, considering the 17 starters returning, a favorable schedule with no Alabama this time around – instead, getting Ole Miss to go along with Mississippi State from the West – and with Florida and Tennessee at home, the time is now.
There doesn’t appear to be a team in the East Kentucky can’t beat, and considering what it did to Louisville last year, there isn’t a game on the slate the Cats can’t win. That’s progress on its own, but this is the season the Cats have to pounce on the momentum from the end of last year.
No, the talent level isn’t on par with the big boys on the slate, but the offense that cranked up the ground game welcomes back RB Benjamin Snell, dangerous QB Stephen Johnson, and a great-looking line that should be able to kick the ground game into high gear once again.
Cut down on the turnovers, get a little more out of the passing game, and voila – the offense will be the most dangerous yet under Stoops.
The defensive side wasn’t a prize last season, but UK was able to overcome the problems and get to a bowl game anyway. This time around, the linebacking corps appears to be loaded, the secondary should be good enough to get by, and Denzil Ware and the pass rush should be great. As long as the interior of the line holds its own, the D should be just a little bit better.
And that’s the goal. No one’s expecting the Crimson Tide defense, but as long as Kentucky can improve, if the offense does it’s job, then yeah, go ahead and dream that this might be the breakthrough team the rest of the country doesn’t see coming.
Can Kentucky stop the long losing streak to Florida? It’s good enough. Can it handle Tennessee at home? Yeah. Can it survive a two-game road stretch against Vanderbilt and Georgia? It could.
Unless you’re Alabama, winning in the SEC is all about timing. When it’s your turn, and when you have the right personnel, the right schedule, and the right make-up, you have to take advantage of it.
Wildcats, this year, you’ve got the personnel, schedule, and make-up.