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Kentucky Football

Predicting Kentucky's Game-By-Game Outcome -- Part 1

July 7, 2018

Here we are, in the middle of July, and step-by-step we are getting closer and closer to football in the bluegrass. Coming off a 7-6 season restrained with some major injuries, Kentucky will try to bounce back even stronger in 2018. With that said, they will have to live life without Stephen Johnson, who led the Cats to back-to-back seven-win seasons for the first time since 2008-09.

There is a lot to smile about for the Wildcats, including the return of one of the nation's best running backs in Benny Snell Jr. On the other side of the football, the Cats will return nine of eleven starters on defense from a season ago. The schedule is very similar to last season's, with a couple of new faces. Without further ado, let's take a look at the 2018 schedule and I will let you know how I see it playing out...

vs Central Michigan Chippewas

The Chippewas are coming off an impressive 8-5 season, but the competition they face clearly isn't a scary sight. They are in a similar boat as Kentucky, losing their Senior leader at quarterback, Shane Morris. Morris threw for 3,237 yards last season, along with 27 touchdowns on 55% passing. Tony Poljan is the only other quarterback who had experience on the field last season, however, he only threw 21 passes.

The Chippewas also lost their leading receiver, Mark Chapman. However, they do return Jonathan Ward, who was their best play-maker a season ago. Ward found the end zone 13 times last season. Ten of them came as a running back, which is Ward's primary position, and he posted over 1,000 yards on the ground in 2017. The other three scores came as a receiver, where Ward posted 470 yards.

All in all, I think it's very safe to say the Cats can chalk this one up as a W. I expect both Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson to see time at quarterback in this game as the coaching staff tries to zero-in on "their guy". It may not be pretty, but I think Kentucky wins the home opener.

Record: 1-0 (0-0)

at Florida Gators

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This is one of the biggest games of the season for Kentucky, and it comes in week two. With so much uncertainty surrounding Florida and Kentucky, it is really hard to predict how it will play out. I believe this game will show both sides what kind of team they have. 

You can look at it both ways... One way makes it seems like Kentucky catches Florida at a good time only being week two with a brand new coaching staff. On the other hand, the Gators catch the Cats at a time where they might not have determined a starting quarterback yet.

With new Head Coach, Dan Mullen, the quarterback position will be a key spot, as Mullen-coached teams always have good quarterbacks; Mullen has already raved about Sophomore Feleipe Franks' arm.

"I watched Feleipe Franks throw the ball 75 yards against Tennessee. The last quarterback I saw that could throw the ball that far was Cam Newton,” Mullen said.

Despite that nice comment, Franks struggled last season, only completing 54.6 percent of his passes. He also lost his job twice throughout the season but started all but three games. Franks basically led the Gators to a 4-7 season, which was their worst record since 2013.

However, Franks isn't a shoe-in for the starting nod. The highly touted recruit, Emory Jones, will come in with a dual-threat experience, which is traditionally what Mullen has seemed to like in his quarterback.

Of Florida's four wins last season, three of them were in the Swamp, the only road win came in Lexington versus the Cats. I would say Kentucky will enter this one with some revenge on their minds, but the embarrassing 30-year win streak is enough. All in all, I think this game will tell a lot about the Cats. It will be close, but I'm afraid they don't get it done in the Swamp.

Record: 1-1 (0-1)

vs Murray State Racers

The Murray State Racers will come into this one trying to knock off an SEC football team. This will more than likely not happen. The Racers lost their top wide receiver from a season ago, which will hurt them badly considering how poor they did on the ground in 2017. 

Losing a guy like Jordon Gandy on the outside will hurt too. Gandy was the only Racer to have over 228 yards receiving last season, and he was only 46 yards away from 1,000. On top of that, Gandy scored ten touchdowns, no other player had more than three.

Besides that point, the Racers have a really good quarterback in Shuler Bentley. Ever heard of him? You probably haven't. However, I'm sure you know his brother, Jake, quarterback of Kentucky foe, the South Carolina Gamecocks. It must run in the family. Bentley played in nine games last season, where he managed to toss thirteen touchdown passes and only four interceptions, and accounted for 1,789 yards through the air.

On the defensive side of the football, the Racers allowed almost 30 points per game last season. This might be the most telling stat about this football team, I think the Cats pull out the W in this one.

Record: 2-1 (0-1)

vs Mississippi State Bulldogs

John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulldogs, Kentucky's rival in the West... For no reason, come to town in week four, for what should be an interesting game. The past two seasons this game has been a pretty big game for both schools. Two years ago, Austin MacGinnis nailed a 51-yard field goal with no time left on the clock to get the Cats a huge win against an SEC West team. Last season, there was a lot of hype around this game, but the Cats were obliterated in Starkville.

This season will be a little different, especially since Dan Mullen won't be on the Mississippi State sideline. However, many think Joe Moorhead will be very similar to Dan Mullen, which can be good and bad news. With that said, this is Moorhead's first head coaching gig and you never know how a coach will adjust to calling the shots.

We do know one thing for certain, Nick Fitzgerald is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. Fitzgerald isn't the sharpest passer in the world, throwing 15 touchdown passes along with 11 interceptions last season. However, Fitzgerald is a big body has is great using his legs in the ground game. He rushed for 984 yards last season and found the end zone 14 times.

Fitzgerald is extremely dangerous when paired up with a guy like Aeris Williams, who rushed for 1,107 yards for the Bulldogs last season. Kentucky's run defense will have to bring it this game to get a big win.

The scariest thing about the Bulldogs is they rank 8th in the nation in returning production from a season ago. First-year Head Coach Joe Moorhead will be inheriting a talented roster, but it is his first ever head coaching job. Although it will be an early test on the road for the Bulldogs, I believe Fitzgerald will lead them to a win.

Record: 2-2 (0-2)

vs South Carolina Gamecocks

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

You have to travel all the back to October 5, 2013, to find the last time the Gamecocks knocked off the Cats. The Head Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, was still rallying those troops. Even last season, the Gamecocks started off as one of the hottest teams in the Nation. They impressively won their first two games of the season against NC State and Missouri.

Heading into their home-opener versus Kentucky, they had everything going for them and you could feel the energy around their program. Entering a sold out, blacked-out, Williams-Brice Stadium, it just felt like South Carolina was going to get it done. It felt even more so that way when Deebo Samuel took a slant route 68-yards to the house on the first play from scrimmage.

Although all of those stars were aligned, the Cats still got the job done. Last year's win made it four-straight victories over the conference foe. 

Heading into this year, however, Deebo Samuel will be back, and he might be the most electrifying player in the Southeastern Conference. In two and a half games last season, Samuel managed to find the end zone a total of six times. In roughly ten quarters of play, he tallied up 280 yards from scrimmage and 194 yards on kick returns.

Along with Samuel, the Gamecocks return quarterback Jake Bentley. Bentley threw for 2,794 yards last season with a  62% completion percentage, which is very impressive. On top of that, Bentley tossed 18 touchdowns but also threw 12 interceptions.

With all of that said, I believe Coach Mark Stoops and the Cats have the Gamecocks' number. I will take Kentucky at Home.

Record: 3-2 (1-2)

at Texas A&M Aggies

Charles Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 1953, the Cats will travel down to College Station to play the Aggies. That sentence makes this matchup seem really unfamiliar, but it is oddly familiar. Why is that? Because the Aggies will be led by new Head Coach, Jimbo Fisher, who Mark Stoops was the Defensive Coordinator for at Florida State for three years.

Many believe Kentucky only has a shot at winning this football game because Coach Stoops knows Fisher arguably more than any other coach in the SEC. At the same time, Fisher knows Stoops just as well, which makes this game even more intriguing.

Fisher is inheriting a talented roster who went 7-6 last season, disappointing by Aggie standards. Also, Texas A&M ranks 35th in the nation in returning production from a season ago. At the same time, Fisher is coming off his worst season as a Head Coach, where he went 5-6 at Florida State.

I believe this will be an interesting matchup with a lot of intriguing headlines around it, but Kyle Field is one of the toughest atmospheres to play in. This game might be closer than some expect, but I think the Aggies get it done in front of the 12th man.

Record: 3-3 (1-3)


At this point, Kentucky will head into a much-needed bye week to rest up for the last half of the schedule. I believe Kentucky has a great shot at winning any of the three games I have them losing, but two of those are in a very tough territory, The Swamp, and Kyle Field.

Things might be in a little bit of disarray heading into the bye week, but I fully believe the Cats will bounce back in the second half of the schedule. If one of the SEC West opponents were on the second half of the schedule, I think Kentucky would have a better shot at winning, but they will face a very tough stretch to open the year, especially if there is controversy surrounding the quarterback position. 

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