(I-75 North, nowhere to go but up right? Get it? Get it?!? No? OK then moving on.)
Athlon Sports is most known for their in depth evaluations of various sports and has come out with their preseason 1-124 college football rankings. In what seems to be the consensus pick for #1 by all of the preseason rankings, the Lane Kiffin and Matt Barkley led USC Trojans are predicted to be the nations best squad. LSU, Alabama, Oregon, and Oklahoma are the teams rounding out the top five. The #1 USC ranking seems strange as in recent years (excluding 2010 Auburn) the top defenses have typically been the strongest teams. Take last year’s LSU and Alabama teams for instance; they were significantly better than the nation’s other elite teams because of the complete inability to produce points against them. While these two teams were number 1 and 2 in defense, USC finished 33rd in my Adjusted Points Allowed last season and have big questions to answer about depth on that side of the ball this year. LSU looks to harbor one of the country’s elite defenses and should bolster an improved offense this season, making the Bayou Bengals the nation’s strongest team.
A team not predicted to be in contention for the National Title, according to Athlon Sports, are Joker Phillips’ Kentucky Wildcats. Athlon has predicted that Kentucky will be merely the 75th best team in the nation, immediately behind the Owls of Temple and the Golden Hurricane of Tulsa. Due to the ranking the Wildcats are predicted to be the worst team in the Southeastern Conference, behind 71st ranked Ole Miss. The article briefly previewing Kentucky’s team can be found here, and below is Athlon’s final analysis of this season’s squad.
Kentucky saw its streak of five consecutive bowl games snapped last season with a 5—7 record. Even if the Cats are better this fall, a tougher schedule that includes road games at Louisville, Florida, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee means that any improvement might not show up in the record. Season-ticket sales and attendance dipped last season, and only 4,500 fans showed up for the Spring Game.
Phillips’ message: “Just wait and see. Don’t give up on this football team. We’ll battle. We’ll fight. We’ll scratch. We’ll claw. Just don’t give up on this football team.”
If anything, the always difficult SEC schedule will have the highest probability of being the downfall of Joker’s third team. The biggest question going into the season is undoubtedly how the players and coaches will react to such a talent discrepancy in comparison to the conference’s elite and mid-level teams. Rick Minter has proven in his short stint as Defensive Coordinator that his scheme is effective in slowing SEC offenses, but the offense must become more creative and prevent injuries in order for there to be any sliver of success this season. With a healthy offense there will be improvement from last season’s abysmal scoring effort, but will it be enough to even become a top-50 offense in Adjusted Points Scored nationally? Doubtful. The defense suffers so many losses from last year’s squad and will surely take a statistical hit, so it’s doubtful they can remain in the top-55 in Adjusted Points Allowed like last season. Because of this, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect Kentucky to be around the 75th best team in the nation. This brings up the 1.7 Million dollar question; will being the 75th best team in the country produce a record good enough to see Joker Phillips receive a fourth season as Wildcat skipper?