John Clay: Stoops' first season at UK will end better than it starts

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 24, 2013 

Now comes the hard part.

I'm not talking about Mark Stoops, the first-year Kentucky coach charged with the task of taking a lemon of a 2-10 team and making it into lemonade and doing so when faced with a 12-game schedule that includes five of the AP's top 10 teams.

I'm talking about me, self-charged with the task of picking those games, week by week.

Oh well, let's get started.

Western Kentucky: Stoops' head-coaching debut is Bobby Petrino's return to the sideline. Remember, Western Kentucky beat the Cats last year in Lexington. The coaches have changed since then. After watching the Hilltoppers in their spring game, I don't see that the outcome will. Western Kentucky 24, Kentucky 17.

Miami of Ohio: Stoops' first home opener. Old axiom states a team makes its most improvement from week one to week two. It will apply in this case. Kentucky 31, Miami of Ohio 14.

Louisville: Only a cream-puff schedule keeps the Cardinals out of the national championship picture. Kentucky will find it difficult keeping Teddy Bridgewater out of the end zone. The Cards then get their picture taken with the Governor's Cup Trophy.

We should then all go out and buy a stadium blanket in anticipation of next year's November game. Louisville 28, Kentucky 13.

Florida: One week the Sugar Bowl winner comes to Commonwealth Stadium. The next week the Sugar Bowl loser arrives, along with former UK head coach Joker Phillips. The home team result will be close to the same as the previous week. Florida 20, Kentucky 13.

South Carolina: Stoops meets Spurrier, as in Steve, as in the man with the biting tongue and the freakish defensive end. Advice when facing Jadeveon Clowney? Keep the chinstrap buckled. Tight. Extremely tight. South Carolina 41, Kentucky 24.

Alabama: The final game of a brutal quartet of meat-grinders. Stoops talks "the process." Nick Saban invented "the process." Stoops has good players on the way. Alabama has good players now. Alabama 19, Kentucky 7.

Mississippi State: Starkville on a Thursday night. "Who Let the Dogs Out" will play, the cowbells will clang and Dan Mullen will keep his record against UK spotless. I am guessing nail-biter, however. Mississippi State 24, Kentucky 22.

Alabama State: Provided Stoops has remaining personnel after such a rugged September/October stretch, the Cats begin to regain some of that pre-season momentum right about here. Kentucky 42, Alabama State 17.

Missouri: First let me say, I consider this Kentucky's biggest game of the year. It's an SEC game. It's a winnable game. Secondly, firsts are always big for a new head coach. This will be Stoops' first conference win. Kentucky 27, Missouri 15.

Vanderbilt: No crystal ball would have predicted that UK would lose to Vandy by a combined 78-8 over the last two years. It happened. Seventy points is a deep ditch to climb in one season. Vanderbilt 26, Kentucky 23.

Georgia: Observers voiced surprise when league coaches voted Aaron Murray first-team All-SEC over Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and BCS title winner AJ McCarron. Sometimes, coaches know best. Georgia 28, Kentucky 20.

Tennessee: Stoops has Kentucky fans excited. Butch Jones has Tennessee fans excited. Kentucky did not beat an SEC team last season. Tennessee beat only Kentucky.

Stoops will end his first season by matching the conference win total from UK's last two seasons. He will also build some momentum toward 2014. Kentucky 24, Tennessee 23.

That's a 4-8 record by my calculations. A 4-8 record is what Rich Brooks posted his first season at Kentucky. Later in his tenure, Brooks took the Cats to four consecutive bowl games. Stoops could do worse.

I predict when it's all said and done, he'll do better.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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