As of yesterday, there are only a short eight weeks left before opening kickoff for this year’s Kentucky football season. The Cats will take on Central Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 1, a date that will be here before we know it. But, unfortunately for Mark Stoops & Co., a large portion of the BBN will have their minds set solely on the Kentucky basketball team for most of August thanks to a trip to the Bahamas and one of the most exciting recruiting classes in years. But is that fair to a football team that is perhaps Mark Stoops’ best so far? Regardless, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for football in the Bluegrass over the course of the next eight weeks. Here are the top eight:
#1 Benny Snell
This one is obvious. After ending the regular season as the SEC’s leader in rushing yards (1,318), it’s easy to be excited for the running back’s junior season. He’s shown that now-famous Snell grit countless times, proven by the fact he leads the SEC in forced missed tackles. Not to mention he’s also reasonably close to owning every rushing record UK has to offer – check out the five records he could break this season here.
I could go on forever about Benny Snell, but I think you get the point. He’ll be the fan favorite this season – get excited to say “Snell Yeah!” for one more year.
#2 Senior CJ Conrad
CJ Conrad entered his junior year as an exciting and dynamic component of Kentucky’s offense. He finished the previous season as the team’s fourth-leading receiver and he came out strong in the first few games of last season. Over the first four games of his junior year, the tight end was averaging 48 yards per game on minimal touches – Conrad only had nine catches throughout these early games, but eight catches were longer than 20 yards and three were touchdowns. Then, his touches dropped off, and Conrad began to disappear. He reappeared in spurts, but then injured his foot against Georgia and was out for the remainder of the season.
Now fully healed and ready to compete, CJ Conrad should serve the Cats as a solid tight end with both experience and NFL-level talent. Not only will he be looking to help Kentucky win games, but he’s also in the process of boosting his own draft stock. Get excited for a fourth and final year for CJ Conrad.
#3 Upcoming SEC Media Day
Believe it or not, SEC Media Day is almost upon us. The four-day event, to be held July 16-19, offers media members the chance to talk with not only their own team’s coaches, but also coaches from around the league. Select players will also be in attendance (Stoops will likely send senior members of his team, but who knows, maybe we’ll be surprised and get some new, always-entertaining Benny Snell quotes).
Kentucky is slated for the first day of action: we’ll hear from them on Monday, July 16 between 1:00 and 5:50 p.m.
#4 UK’s annual Women’s Clinic
This one’s for the ladies of the BBN! As someone who’s attended this clinic in the past, I can wholeheartedly say it’s one of the best ways to get excited for the upcoming season. The coaches do a great job of introducing the players, talking through their typical training days, explaining new drills and plays the team has been working on and basically selling the fans on every component of the team. Sure, it’s coming straight from the coaching staff – so expect some bias – but it’s an overall great experience in a fun atmosphere.
The clinic will take place on Saturday, July 28 from 7:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. in the Woodford Reserve Club at Kroger Field. For more information or to sign up, click here.
#5 Return and Revamp of the “Blitz Brothers”
Following Denzil Ware’s surprising exit from the program earlier this year, Josh Allen is the only remaining member of the dynamic duo that came to be known as the “Blitz Brothers.” But fear not, there are other players who can step up and join the brotherhood. The most likely candidate? Josh Paschal. Last season, Ware and Allen referred to Paschal as their “baby brother” and even their “blitz cousin.” He’ll just be a sophomore, but this is the year to get excited for Paschal’s big break into the brotherhood.
Also, let’s not forget his game-changing blocked punt against Eastern Michigan University last season. More of that, please.
#6 Mike Edwards
Speaking of defensive players poised to have a big season, I couldn’t possibly leave out Mike Edwards. He was last season’s leading tackler, and his decision to return to UK for his senior season was huge for this year’s defense.
Like Snell, Edwards is also closing in on etching his name in the Kentucky history books. He’s averaged 98.5 tackles over the past two seasons, but he’s just 64 stops away from earning a place in the exclusive 300-tackle club. He’d join just 18 other former-Cats in the esteemed group.
Combined with last year’s leading sacker (Josh Allen) and the aforementioned up-and-coming Blitz Bro, Paschal, Kentucky’s defense is lining up to be very dangerous. Of course, they’ll be competing against some pretty fantastic offenses across the SEC, so nothing is a given. But the Honeybadger’s return is huge, and his potential is definitely something to be excited about.
#7 A stronger student section?
UK has finally developed a new system for students to gain entry into Kentucky football and basketball games. While the student section at football games has traditionally been less scrutinized than the section at basketball games, perhaps the mobile process will encourage even more students to attend. Here’s Mrs. Tyler’s breakdown of the new ticket process.
Unfortunately, female members of UK’s Greek community will not be able to attend the first home game of the season. A change in sorority recruitment (formally known as rush) schedule means no sorority women will have the chance to help fill the student section during the Cats’ opener against Central Michigan. Hopefully other students can step up and compensate for those lost tickets.
#8 A chance to beat Florida
I couldn’t write this article and ignore the most heartbreaking and frustrating streak for the program. Now, I’m not going to say UK is going to beat the Gators. Let’s be honest: Florida will once again be a good team, and even when the Cats have had the chance to beat them in previous years, mistakes have been made that cost Kentucky the win. Like this “mistake,” for example.
Regardless, it’s been 31 years and it’s time to beat the Gators. Heck, it was time 30 years ago. But now, after all this time, nothing would make Kentucky fans happier than going down to Gainesville and beating the Gators in their own Swamp. Let’s get excited for the chance to do just that… and let’s also make sure their receivers are covered.
It’s shaping up to be an exciting season for Kentucky football. 55 more days, people. 55 more days.