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A Way Too Early Look at the SEC East

Times Free Press

The last week of May marks the arrival time for college football magazines. Athlon, Street and Smith, and several other periodicals are stocked at Kroger stores across the Commonwealth. All will proclaim to be the most accurate predictors of all things college football.

I’m still eagerly awaiting Phil Steele’s dissertation. Steele’s work fits my statistic-driven wheelhouse. Annually I’ll buy two of his books; one to mark up with highlighters that also features several underlined factoids. The other is used as a desktop reference. Respect.

The SEC East has been dissected in every format imaginable. I find it difficult to prognosticate the outcome of football games that are 90+ days out. Way too much time for teams to incur personnel losses with the dog days of summer probations-suspensions on the horizon. We’ll have a better grip on the situation following Media Days in mid-July.

So, here’s my way too early and abbreviated overview of the SEC East (In alphabetical order):

Strengths: All in the foot; kicker Eddy Pineiro and punter Johnny Townsend are excellent. The duo is perhaps the Gator’s most potent weapons.

Concerns: First year defensive coordinator Randy Shannon has to replace eight starters, many of which are now in the NFL. Freshman QB Felipe Franks will be charged with upgrading an offense that absolutely gasped in November.

Summary: Jim McElwain is one heck of a football coach. He could have his hands full in 2017 but don’t count him or the Gators out of contention.

Strengths: Personnel. The Dawgs are flat loaded. I mean flat out loaded.

Concerns: Must replace 3 starters off an underachieving offensive line. Sophomore QB Jacob Eason is poised to soar. TE’s Isaac Nouta and Jeb Blazevich are elite pass catchers. But, UGA lacks a go-to, downfield threat at receiver. Can Georgia effectively stretch the field in order to take the pressure off two, alpha-dog RB’s in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel? We’ll see in September.

Summary: Ten extremely talented starters return from a 2016, Top 20 defense. Two of the best running backs in the country call Athens home. Georgia could be a tough out and should be the preseason pick to win the East.

Strengths: Lots of starters coming back.

Concerns: Defensive line depth and explosiveness.  Stoops also has to replace two homerun offensive threats.

Summary: Winnable but contested road games will define the 2017 Wildcats: @ Southern Miss, @South Carolina, @Vanderbilt, @Mississippi State.

USA Today

Strengths: Plenty offensive skill players put up huge numbers in a wide-open system could light up scoreboards. This group includes the conference’s top rated-returning passer in QB Drew Lock, the 5th ranked rusher RB-Damarea Crockett, and the league’s leading receiver-J’Mon Moore.

Concerns: Defense. Bad defense. The Tigers allowed 302 yards per game in 2015. 2016 saw an increase of 177 yards in the same category. Astonishing. And, it lost veteran defenders at critical positions.

Summary: Barry Odom limped to a 4-8 record in year one. Not much on paper indicates that his defense will be much improved. The Tigers can win games, but it will have to do so in Big 12 fashion.

Strengths: Momentum and youthful, rising stars at offensive skill positions. QB Jake Bentley started 7 games a year ago and completed 65% of his passes.

Concerns: Defensive personnel losses and inconsistency.

Summary: Which end-of-season, 2016 game will act as a precursor for the 2017 Gamecocks: demoralizing loss vs. Clemson (56-7) or an encouraging performance in a loss against South Florida (46-39)? I’m not as sold as many are on Carolina, but Will Muschamp surely overachieved in year one.

Bleacher Report

Strengths: UT’s offensive line returns 7 players that have logged time as a starter. Experience and talented offensive linemen will be necessary to pull along other question marked position groups.

Concerns: Who’s going to score the touchdowns? Gone are its QB, 2 RB’s, and its top receiver. An unsettled quarterback situation going into fall camp certainly won’t expedite the situation.

Summary: Butch Jones failed to capitalize on less than stellar East with a loaded roster. Back-to-back nine-win seasons would be a blessing on most campuses. However, a year-five rebuild may ignite the head Vol’s seat.

Strengths: Coach Derek Mason will field a depth chart compiled of juniors and seniors after getting a justified raise and contract extension.

Concerns: Replacing LB Zach Cunningham. Cunningham is arguably VU’s best all-time defender.

Summary: RB Ralph Webb returned. QB Kyle Shurmer finished 2016 with a flare. A bad showing (41-17 loss) vs. NC State in its bowl game is the only reason I’m not more bullish on Vanderbilt. The Commodores have a chance to be pretty darn good in 2017.

What does all this mean?

The SEC East is wide open even with Georgia’s pro-filled depth chart. Again, lots can happen between the first of June and September openers.

UP NEXT: My theory that SEC East RB’s NLF decisions are the most impactful personnel storyline of the offseason.


Scout

Would You Rather Eliminate UofL Baseball or Defeat UofL Football?

Scout

You’re never supposed to count your chickens before they hatch, but there’s a scenario brewing that must be addressed.

If Kentucky and Louisville both win this weekend’s Regionals, the Cats and the Cards will face off in a best-of-three series at Jim Patterson Stadium for a chance to play in the College World Series (CWS).

After reaching the CWS two years in a row in 2013 and 2014, the Cards were favorites to win it all the previous two years, only to be upset in heartbreaking fashion at home in the Super Regionals.  On the other side of the diamond, Kentucky has never been to a CWS.  In fact, they’ve never even been to a Super Regional.  If the Cats could advance to the CWS in Mingione’s first season while building a new stadium, it would create unprecedented momentum for the program, all while ending another promising UofL season early in their own ballpark.

That choice is awfully attractive, but so is winning the Governor’s Cup for the second consecutive year against a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback coached by Bobby Petrino.  It’s difficult to foresee where the each football program will be at the end of the season, but here’s a best case scenario for each team going into the game:

  • Kentucky: The Cats have eight wins and could potentially win the East.
  • Louisville: The Cards defeat Clemson and Florida State and are playing for the CFB Playoff.

Even if there is much less at stake for both teams in the final game of the season, an eight-win regular season for Kentucky would be the first for the football program since 1984.  I don’t think I have to tell you how insufferable Louisville fans would be if they made the CFB Playoff.

Now you have a hypothetical choice.  You only get one.  Would you rather eliminate the Louisville baseball team from postseason play and see UK advance to the CWS, or would you rather see the best regular season of Kentucky football since 1984 end with a win over Lamar Jackson and Bobby Petrino?



WKU Football Players Indicted

Mike Lunsford | WKU Athletics

One former and six current Western Kentucky football players have been indicted by a Warren County grad jury for a variety charges stemming from an incident in March at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house.

The most serious charges involve an alleged assault.  Quinton Baker, 19; Xavier Lane, 20; Tyler Obee, 18; and Cecil Stallings, 20, who were each charged with complicity to wanton endangerment, first degree; complicity to assault, fourth degree; and criminal trespass, third degree.

Jahcour Pearson, 19, and Christopher Johnson, 21, were each charged with criminal trespass, third degree. Andrew O’Bryan, 19, was charged with menacing, and criminal trespass, third degree.

The March 5 incident was captured by security cameras.

WKU announced all six current players have been suspended indefinitely.  O’Bryan is no longer with the team.

Former Ashland Blazer star Quinton Baker was once a Kentucky commit.  In his first season in Bowling Green, he rose to the ranks as the No. 2 running back behind Ace Wales and earned freshman All-Conference honors.  Poised for a breakout season in Mike Sanford’s first fall as the Toppers head coach, it’s Baker’s second off the field incident in as many years.  According to Spectrum Sports, he pleaded ‘guilty’ in 2016 to DUI and marijuana possession charges.

[LEX-18]


Tim Couch is on the College Football Hall of Fame Ballot

The National Football Foundation (NFF) and the College Football Hall of Fame announced that Tim Couch will be on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot.  If selected, Couch would become just the ninth Kentucky Wildcat in the College Football Hall of Fame, whose most recent selection was Art Still in 2015.

An icon at Leslie County High School, Couch granted his father’s wish and spurned Tennessee to become a Wildcat.  With Hal Mumme calling the shots, Couch reinvigorated the Kentucky fanbase by leading Kentucky’s Air Raid to two postseason appearances. It only takes a brief glance at his resume to understand why Couch deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

A 1998 consensus First Team All-American who finished fourth in Heisman voting in 1998 and ninth in 1997…1998 SEC Player of the Year who led Cats to first win over Alabama in 75 years…Set seven NCAA, 14 SEC and 26 school records.

Restricted to First Team All-Americans, Couch is one of 173 players on this year’s ballot.  Players will be selected based on the vote of 12,000 NFF members and Hall of Famers, followed by deliberations between the NFF’s Honors Court that is led by two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin.

Couch will learn if he will become a Hall of Famer in the 2018 Class on January 8 in Atlanta before the CFB Playoff National Championship Game.


ESPN released their top five running backs in the SEC and Benny Snell is not happy

ESPN just released their top five running backs in the SEC for the upcoming year, and UK sophomore RB Benny Snell was not happy when he found out he was not included on the list.

The top five running backs included:

  1. Derrius Guice, LSU
  2. Nick Chubb, Georgia
  3. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
  4. Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
  5. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt

Here is the original tweet/link and Snell’s response:

“L O L.”

As a freshman, Benny Snell rushed for 1091 yards and 13 touchdowns on 186 carries, breaking the school record for most rushing yards by a freshman in history.

Here is the stat breakdown of the five backs on ESPN’s list:

  1. Derrius Guice rushed for 1387 yards and 15 touchdowns on 183 carries.
  2. Nick Chubb rushed for 1130 yards and eight touchdowns on 224 carries.
  3. Bo Scarbrough rushed for 812 yards and 11 touchdowns on 125 carries.
  4. Kamryn Pettway rushed for 1224 yards and seven touchdowns on 209 carries.
  5. Ralph Webb 1283 yards and 13 touchdowns on 250 carries.

Do you think Benny should’ve been included in the top five?

 


Is CJ Conrad destined for Jacob Tamme-esque breakout year?

UK Athletics

Momentum around UK football right now is at an all-time high, with many fans and media analysts expecting the Wildcats to win anywhere from seven to nine games next season. Kentucky returns the majority of starters next year, there is (finally) some consistency from the offensive coordinator position, depth continues to grow stronger, etc.

One of the main reasons for excitement? The expected growth of UK junior tight end CJ Conrad.

If you ask TeamSpeedKills.com of SB Nation, Conrad is due for a Jacob Tamme-esque breakout year for the Wildcats this season.

As you all well know, one of the most reliable pass-catchers in recent Kentucky football memory comes from 6’3 tight end and Danville, KY native Jacob Tamme. During the Rich Brooks era, Tamme became a go-to target for Andre Woodson, and he was instrumental in the massive bowl runs in both 2006 and 2007.

When you dive into the numbers, both Tamme and Conrad’s freshman and sophomore seasons at Kentucky were eerily similar.

In his first year at UK, Conrad caught 15 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, showing off hints of his four-star potential he came in with. Conrad followed it up with 19 receptions, 262 yards, and four touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. (Who knows what kind of numbers Conrad could have put up last season if he and Stephen Johnson connected on some of the throws that sailed over the tight end’s head throughout the year.)

You can see Tamme’s numbers in the graphic below:

ESPN

Tamme certainly had more receptions in his sophomore year, but the yardage is nearly identical. In the next two seasons, his numbers spiked.

Check out TeamSpeedKills’ analysis on the comparison of both Kentucky tight ends:

Remember Jacob Tamme? The standout tight end was one of Kentucky’s best receivers in the mid 2000s, leading to his placement on the First Team All-SEC lists in both his junior and senior years. Ultimately, he would be taken by the Colts in the 4th round of the NFL Draft, spending 3 years catching passes from Peyton Manning—fellow SEC athlete and one of the best quarterbacks of all time.

Tamme was a star on some of Kentucky’s most exciting teams, including the 2007 one that rose all the way to No. 8 in the rankings after beating No. 1 LSU in triple overtime at Commonwealth Stadium Kroger Field. That year was certainly a strange one at the University of Kentucky—the football team was consistently better and a bit more popular than the basketball team, a fact that speaks to the quality of the players Rich Brooks had brought to the school.

Conrad certainly hasn’t had a Tamme-like season yet. And honestly, he might not. After all, Tamme’s numbers were phenomenal, and it’s baffling that he was never a Mackey Award finalist. He was an extremely talented player, the likes of which the Wildcats might never see again.

Still, if there’s anyone since then who can replicate the success and stats that Tamme put up, it’s Conrad. Next season will mark one decade since Tamme’s senior season, and it’ll also see us enter the final half of C.J. Conrad’s time at Kentucky. The jump from 2015 to 2016 saw a massive improvement in nearly every facet of Kentucky football, from quarterback to tight end.

Kentucky fans are hoping that the jump from 2016 to 2017 sees an even greater jump for C.J. Conrad, the man who could become the next Jacob Tamme.

You can read the rest of the article here.


Stoops on Finebaum: “Good Things are Happening at Kentucky.”

Stoops on Finebaum: “Good Things are Happening at Kentucky.”

How things have changed in a year for Mark Stoops and the Kentucky football team.

A year ago during his annual interview with Paul Finebaum at the SEC Spring Meetings, it was all bowl talk.  The gist of the questions were, “Can you make it?”  After answering “yes” to those questions in 2016, this afternoon Mark Stoops brought plenty of optimism to the Finebaum set in Destin.

“I really feel like we’re building. We go to prepare to win every game,” Stoops said.  “Our expectations are high.  We know it’s a tough conference, we still are a work in progress but I like where we’re at.  I like the direction of our team, our coaching staff I’m very comfortable with and recruiting’s going well.  We have a lot of facilities that are in place.  All of those things we’ve been talking about the past couple of years, you see them coming to fruition right now and good things are happening at Kentucky.”

The Kentucky football complex has turned into a place where good things happen and where recruits want to play.  What comes next could be a lot of fun.

“We’re capable of an awful lot, we really are.  The sky’s the limit for us.  There’s a great opportunity here for us,” he said. “It just takes that consistency.  We took a big jump last year, but we need to build on that.  We need to stay consistent with what we’re doing and continue to build on that.  Our fans will be there.  Kids want to come play at Kentucky.  We feel like the sky’s the limit for us.”

Stoops has always been optimistic, but never like this.  When Paul asked him about his defense next year, he tried to hold back a smile, but failed.  The redhead’s grin could best be described as devilish as he stammered through saying, “We’re definitely going to be a greatly improved defensive football team.”

Everything is in place for Mark Stoops to take Kentucky football to take another big jump in 2017.  Who knows what kind of questions he will take at next year’s SEC Spring Meetings.


Early CFB lines list Kentucky-Tennessee as a pick ’em

South Point Casino in Las Vegas released its opening lines for the games of the year in college football and Kentucky has two games on the board: Tennessee and Louisville, both at home in Commonwealth Stadium Kroger Field.

South Point lists the Tennessee game as a PK, which means the Vols would be about a field goal favorite on a neutral field. That game will be played Saturday, October 28 and the Cats are looking to win one in the series for the first time since Matt Roark ran wild in his first and only start as a quarterback.

Louisville is an 8.5 point favorite in the Governor’s Cup game in Lexington on Saturday, November 25. There is no prop bet for Lamar Jackson fumbling the game away again.

Here are all of the games of the year from South Point:

In related news, I’ve stayed at South Point and I do not recommend it.


Kentucky’s strength of schedule ranked tenth in SEC

Kentucky’s strength of schedule ranked tenth in SEC

CBSSports.com put together a ranking of each of the 14 teams of the Southeastern Conference based on their 2017 strength of schedule, and your University of Kentucky got one of the league’s easier runs for the upcoming college football season.

Kentucky’s strength of schedule ranked tenth in the conference, according to Tom Fornelli and explained below:

10. Wildcats

Mark Stoops and Kentucky are looking to go bowling again and their nonconference schedule should get them halfway to eligibility. Sure, Louisville to finish the season is tough, but Southern Miss, Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan should all be wins. The Wildcats draw both Mississippi schools from the West, which won’t be easy, but is likely preferred to most of the alternative options. They also get both Florida and Tennessee at home this season, though they will head to Athens to take on the Bulldogs. [CBSSports.com]

As for the rest of the SEC, Vanderbilt’s schedule ranked first due to its trips to Knoxville and Gainesville in the East and the draw of Alabama from the West. Arkansas has the least toughest schedule with two FCS opponents.

See the entire ranking here.


Remember that time Lamar Jackson did the Heisman, then Fumbled?

That was pretty awesome.  If you did forget, do yourself a favor and spend the some time reliving that glorious day.

If that’s too long, two and a half minutes of highlights will do the trick.

96 days till football season.


Kentucky makes Top Seven of 3-Star Running Back

Kentucky makes Top Seven of 3-Star Running Back

The Cats have made the final seven of a 3-star running back out of Melbourne, Florida. Lavonte Valentine is the number 13 all-purpose back in the class of 2018. An all-purpose back is one who has success as both a runner and a receiver. He currently does hold an offer from the Cats.  His final seven includes: LSU, Florida, Louisville, South Carolina, USC, Notre Dame and Kentucky. Right now, his Crystal Ball projections are set at 50% Florida and 50% South Carolina, but as we have learned, you can never count out Eddie Gran and company.

Valentine does feature blistering speed. He won the Florida 4A State Championship in the 100m dash by running it in 10.61 seconds. His personal record is a 10.44. Earlier this year, Valentine also set the National Record by running the 60 meter dash in 6.77 seconds. You can watch him work down below:

@GormleyKSR


Two Fantastic Stats About the NFL Cats

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

At Kentucky Sports Radio, the blog never sleeps.  We blog till we fall.  However, finding original statistical concoctions in said blogs are few and far between.  That’s not the case at Pro Football Focus.

While I use my fingers to count how many days till football season, they’re crunching next level numbers.  Even though the Cats in the NFL don’t receive the same hype as the NBA Cats, they’re pretty damn good.

Defensively, UK’s linebackers are some of the best in the business.  The Cats have three of the ten best run stoppers in the NFL.  According to PFF’s Run Stop Rate, a metric I don’t entirely understand, Avery Williamson is at 10.6 percent, Wesley Woodyard is at 11.4 percent and Danny Trevathan is at 12 percent.  What those numbers mean, I do not know exactly, but I’m pretty sure it translates to “don’t run it their way.”

Offensively, two former Kentucky pass-catchers have some of the best hands in the League.  Last season, only five NFL players were targeted more than 30 times without a drop.  Two of them were Wildcats.  Randall Cobb had 60 catchable targets; he did not drop one.  Jacob Tamme’s season ended early, but before it was finished he proved he’s a sure-handed tight end, failing to drop one pass in 30 targets.  Hopefully some of this year’s Cats are taking notes.

98 days till football season.


Stephen Johnson Graces the Cover of Lindy’s SEC Preview

Stephen Johnson Graces the Cover of Lindy’s SEC Preview

@LindysSportsMag

Stephen Johnson and a player he dominated into submission are on the cover of Lindy’s Regional SEC Football Preview cover.  Johnson is the predominantly featured quarterback because he’s the superior player.  I’m just surprised they could find a picture of the red-clad quarterback where he’s actually holding onto the football.

Johnson is the second Kentucky Wildcat to make the cover of a college football preview magazine.  Benny Snell is featured on the cover of Athlon’s regional preview.


Courtesy: UK Athletics

Happy Birthday to UK Quarterback Danny Clark

Courtesy: UK Athletics

Happy Birthday to the UK Quarterback of the future, Danny Clark. Clark turns the ripe age of 19 years old today. The former three-star recruit comes to Kentucky from Massillon, Ohio where he won two state championships. In fact, he was so much a star that he was formerly committed to Ohio State. When he decommitted, he became a top priority for the Cats. Clark enrolled a semester early and therefore was able to experience Spring practice.

Get to know the current Cat with this piece done by KyWildcatsTV on signing day:

Also be sure to wish him a Happy Birthday on Twitter @DClarkQB.


CFB week one odds are in… Wildcats open as two-score favorites against Southern Miss

We are still 14 weeks away from the opening of the 2017 college football season, but the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have already released the odds for the first weekend of games.

The Wildcats will head down to Hattiesburg, MS on September 2nd to take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles as 13 1/2 point favorites.

As you all are well aware, Kentucky was handed a gut wrenching loss to the Golden Eagles on opening night last year, sparking angst throughout the commonwealth. The two weeks following that game were…. rough.

They’ll surely head down to Hattiesburg with a chip on their shoulder with a blowout in mind to make up for last year, right?

What do you guys think of the opening line?