Kentucky’s going to a bowl game this year, according to ESPN’s latest bowl projections. Brett McMurphy predicts the Cats will play in the Birmingham Bowl, while Mark Schlabach predicts it’ll be the Memphis Bowl against Texas.
If you were to ask the good people in Big Blue Nation where they prefer Kentucky goes this postseason, they’d simply tell you “anywhere.” It doesn’t matter where, so long as UK’s back in a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
With some major improvements on the defensive side of the ball and the happenings around the conference, I’ll join McMurphy and Schlabach in believing in the Cats’ future. Here are six reasons why Kentucky will get the six wins it needs to go bowling:
1.) Because Boom Williams and Benny Snell are really, really good. (JoJo Kemp, too.)
Since Benny Snell burst onto the scene in Week 3, Kentucky has rushed for 232 yards per game in wins over New Mexico State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt, and the one loss, at the unbelievably good/unfair Alabama. Prior to Snell’s debut, the Cats averaged 95 yards per game in losses to Southern Miss and Florida.
The addition of Snell to that rotation has been enormous and, as Jen Smith noted on the Twitter machine, Snell and Williams’ 881 combined rushing yards are the most by any Kentucky duo since Tony Dixon and Rafael Little in 2007. Needless to say, Snell has been huge in his role as the Cats’ closer, which makes me a little sick to my stomach when I think about how the Southern Miss game would’ve played out if he had the ball in the second half. Ugh.
Over the weekend, Freddie Maggard pointed out that Vanderbilt held Florida to 92 rush yards and Georgia to only 75, while Kentucky ran for 258 against the Commodores a week ago. It’s statistics like that, and others, that’s got me confident Kentucky’s three-headed monster in the backfield will carry the team to the six-win mark this season.
2.) Because the SEC East sucks.
Never in the history of the Southeastern Conference has the East division been so bad at football. Vanderbilt’s garbage. South Carolina’s garbage. Missouri, garbage. Really, Georgia? Vanderbilt at home? Garbage. Tennessee’s good but not as good as expected and one-loss Florida will lose at least two more games this season, maybe three.
If there were ever a time for Kentucky to take advantage of the weak East, this is it. And outside of the Florida debacle, Kentucky has done what it’s needed to do for a second-place ranking in the division right now.
3.) Because Austin Peay.
4.) Because the defense is playing good football.
Whatever happened behind the scenes with Mark Stoops’ role with the defense, it worked. Kentucky’s D has been better than anyone could’ve expected after three horrendous games to start the season, which led Lee Corso to say, “Kentucky might have the worst defense in the history of college football,” on College GameDay earlier this season. That comment sparked a three-game stretch of only four touchdowns allowed, three of which came in Tuscaloosa, where the Cats held Alabama to a season low in points.
Kentucky’s defense is still vulnerable, but its turnaround was impressive. Kudos to Stoops and the guys for buckling down and keeping folks out of the end zone. Keep it up and they’re bowling.
5.) Because Stephen Johnson wins games.
Johnson has plenty to improve before he’s a good SEC quarterback, but there’s no denying the fact he gets the job done. Aside from that Alabama game, his first career start on the road, Johnson is undefeated as Kentucky’s quarterback. It hasn’t exactly been pretty, but three wins are three wins, regardless of how they each played out.
6.) Because they’re going to beat Mississippi State for the first time in seven years.
Dan Mullen has owned Kentucky since he became Mississippi State’s head coach in 2009. He is undefeated against the Cats during that time for the longest win streak in the rivalry’s 43 head-to-head meetings. Last season, Mullen’s Bulldogs put it on Stoops’ Cats to the tune of a 42-16 victory.
This year, however, it is different. Mississippi State is way down by its standards and comes to Lexington off a loss to BYU in Utah. With that, and an embarrassing home loss to South Alabama to start the year, State is 2-4 on the season.
Kentucky will take advantage of the opportunity and get back in the win column against the Bulldogs, then carry that momentum into Missouri for the game that could ultimately punch the ticket to a bowl game.