For the Kentucky Wildcats, there are approximately eight gazillion 2016 schedule scenarios. I’m fairly certain that we’ll hypothesize roughly half between now and September. As we take our first glance at the upcoming season, the Missouri and South Carolina games scream of probable SEC wins but also have the feel of potentially devastating losses. Let’s take a look:
The home opener has the makings of a message board dream. Returning to Commonwealth Stadium as an offensive scape goat, one-and-done offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson inherits quarterback Nick Mullens and his four thousand passing yards from 2015. Motivation, expectation and anxiety will be sky high for both Southern Miss and UK.
As the Jay Hopson regime begins in Lexington, the likelihood of UK win is medium to high.
Several Florida defenders heard their names called in the 2016 NFL Draft. But, there is still elite defensive talent in Gainesville. The oft-transferred quarterback Luke Del Rio is attending his third school in four years. Bull Gator Jim McElwain is hoping that either Del Rio or grad-transfer Austin Appleby will develop into a quality replacement for the departed Will Grier. As the talent gap between the two teams has decreased, the Cats let the past two victories slip away.
With the Swamp effect in place, the likelihood of a UK win is medium.
New Mexico State
Here’s where the schedule takes a curious turn. Exit Steve Spurrier and a talent level that produced an SEC East title and three consecutive eleven win seasons. Enter Will Muschamp with an average at best roster and a plethora of doubting Thomas’s still questioning the hire. Linebacker Skai Moore is the only returning Gamecock that you’ll likely remember. In Columbia, South Carolina the Muschamp era could get off to unremarkable beginnings.
Likelihood of a UK win is high; the significance of a W is immeasurable.
The defending national champions will be a tough out.
Likelihood of a UK win is low.
All I will say here is that if Kentucky loses to Vanderbilt at home, Mark Stoops will have far more pressing concerns than merely fighting for bowl eligibility. Last season’s extreme Nashville embarrassment should serve as ample motivation for revenge. Oh yeah, if a KSR visor is found in the vicinity of Vanderbilt Stadium, please return it to Kentucky Sports Radio Headquarters. Thanks.
Likelihood of a UK win is high.
Dak Prescott is now a Dallas Cowboy. Dan Mullen has remarkably built a consistently successful program in Starkville. However, the notable Bulldog nine-win season streak could be in jeopardy.
Likelihood of a UK win is medium.
Columbia, Missouri is the midway point between St. Louis and Kansas City. For the BBN, it will serve as the site of a perilous game in a crucial junction of an imperative season. In other words, a term more defining than “must win”. 2015’s Cat fight saw Kentucky play at its season’s best. Barry Odom takes over the Tiger helm from Gary Pinkel who retired as the winningest coach in program history. Mizzou is coming off a 5-7 season with a roster that is teetering on being un-Missouri-like. Adding to the woes, Craig Kuligowski, considered to be the most respected defensive line coach in the game is now with Mark Richt at the U. Even though Odom is a pedigreed Mizzou man, year one has the writings of a typical transition season.
Likelihood of a SEC road win is medium.
So many scenarios, so few definitive forecasts. With a relatively new starting quarterback and glaring defensive line questions, the 2016 Wildcats are an unfinished novel. In its quest for bowl eligibility, wins in Columbia and at home against Carolina are both attainable and perilous.