It’s absolutely apparent this is a major year for the future of Kentucky football. I don’t believe Stoops is on the hot seat as of now, but a disappointing season would start an awful domino effect that could end up halting any positive momentum this program has garnered over the past four years. Recruiting right now is the best it has ever been, the coaching staff continues to impress nationally, and excitement for football in the bluegrass is at an all-time high, but a bowl-less season could derail any and all momentum they have for the future.
One game could be the deciding factor of major success in the future or the start of a downward spiral, and it falls on November 5th against the Georgia Bulldogs in Lexington. Here are just a few reasons why I believe the Cats will defeat the Dawgs in route to Stoops’ first bowl game at Kentucky.
1. Kentucky has the talent to make it happen
The team is now almost entirely made up of Stoops’ recruits, so there are no “Joker’s leftovers held this team back” arguments made in the first three years of the Stoops era. This is the fourth straight year of a top 40 recruiting class, two of which being top 25 quality. There are over 20 4-star and a few five-star recruits rated by at least one recruiting service, with players like Garrett Johnson and Chris Westry who weren’t considered four-stars certainly exceeding expectations. UK has never had more talent on paper than this team has, and it’s time to prove it against a quality opponent. Wins like Missouri, South Carolina, and Vandy have been fun in recent years, but it’s time to beat the big boys and make national headlines. This game is certainly their chance.
2. Georgia will have a question mark at QB
True freshman Jacob Eason will likely make a push for the starting job this offseason, and very well may accomplish that. Yeah, the guy is rated as a five-star prospect in nearly every recruiting service out there and is considered one of the top prospects of the 2016 recruiting class, but he’ll still be a freshman. A new level of energy consumes the stands at Commonwealth when Georgia is in town, and with a team right on the fringe of a bowl game, UK will be playing with a new level of swagger. That alone can cause a few rookie errors that could make or break the game for the Cats, especially with the best secondary in Kentucky history led by Chris Westry, Derrick Baity, and Mike Edwards keeping him honest.
3. The score has been relatively close in the UK-UGA series recently
Yes, UK hasn’t won against the Bulldogs since 2009, but the Cats have kept it relatively close dating back to the Rich Brooks’ era. There have certainly been outliers, namely the 59-17 slaughter in 2013 and the incompetent defensive showing in 2014’s 63-31 loss, but the vast majority have been close. In 2012, the Cats fell to the 11th ranked Dawgs 29-24, and only lost by nine, 19-10, in 2010. Even last year, the contest was up for grabs for a few quarters until the wheels fell off in the latter half of the game. Especially at home, history is in favor for the matchup to be competitive, and this could be the year UK finally gets over that victory hump.
4. Georgia plays Florida before, Auburn after
Georgia will be in a dog fight at home against the Gators beforehand, and then will have Auburn to look forward to the week following our matchup with them. A sandwich of two powerhouses is extremely favorable for the Cats, as not only will the Bulldogs be worn down from the week prior, they’ll also be inclined to look ahead to the matchup against the Tigers in their pursuit of the SEC Championship game. With the Cats ready for a battle, we may catch them at a good time and pull off the upset.
5. Simply put, they have to
UK’s schedule is certainly a little more difficult this coming season than it has in the past few years, there’s no denying that. There are a few “gimmes,” and several other winnable games, but it will without a doubt be a brawl for six wins this year. With the future of the program on the line, this may just be a game they have to win to get a ton of pressure off their backs. A lucky catch here, a favorable spot there, a turnover or two, etc., Kentucky just has to catch a few breaks and win this game.
A Georgia upset at home would make a lasting impact on the Stoops era, and just might give the Cats the momentum to be a competitor in the SEC East in the near future. If nothing else, it sure would be fun to see a fired up student section rip down the goal posts again.