Progress is what we’re looking for; building blocks for the future. Collecting wins and stuffing the stat box aren’t necessarily the priorities for head coach Mark Stoops and Co. in year one. So to be a favorite to win a game might only happen one or two other times this season, but that is exactly how the Wildcats will open the Stoops Era, as a 4.5-point favorite over Bobby Petrino and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Sixteen days is all that separates today from that game at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. Sporting News calls that game the “easiest upset pick of the weekend.” And I get it: It’s a two-win team still likely seeking an identity. The secondary is a weak link, and Petrino’s spread ‘em out offense has the potential to pick the defensive backs of Kentucky apart.
But there are still SEC-caliber players wearing blue and, with all due respect, still Sun Belt players wearing red.
The Hilltoppers beat Kentucky last year in overtime at Lexington, Ky., and get a return game this fall in Nashville. Watch how well junior QB Brandon Doughty plays under new coach Bobby Petrino, who begins his comeback–after his ugly exit from Arkansas–with a talented team that could win every game this fall.
Petrino has the Sun Belt’s best player (running back Antonio Andrews) and the league’s best defensive player (linebacker Andrew Jackson). You better believe Petrino has pointed to this game as a statement moment–not only for his talented team, but for himself in a return to coaching.
For all the positive vibes new coach Mark Stoops has brought to UK, the reality is this team is still a long way away from competing in the SEC with its current personnel.
It is hard to imagine the core of Kentucky’s team will settle for losing to Western Kentucky in back-to-back years. The defensive line will stack the box against Andrews and clog the middle running lanes, so the only way Western puts up points is through the air… And Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith will be going all out in the pass rush. The game is going to be a shoot-out, but with a new vein of energy flowing though the offense, the Cats might not ever stop scoring points in this one.
It’s going to be fun to get the season started, and watch the rebuilding and re-branding of Kentucky Football take shape. I cannot wait.
Also, Sporting News notes Ohio visiting Louisville as a potential upset pick in week one. Keep an eye on it.