If Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops was looking for a way to motivate his players during the extra-long preseason, he can simply post the Southeastern Conference media poll all over the practice facility.
The voting, which was released Friday, has the Cats picked to finish fifth in the SEC Eastern Division behind Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina; and ahead of just Vanderbilt and Missouri. UK was picked to finish fourth at this time last season and went on to tie for second place.
As expected, the media also predicted that defending SEC champion Alabama will be on top in the West again and win the league title. The Crimson Tide lost to Clemson in the national championship game last season.
Three Kentucky players earned spots on the preseason Media Days All-SEC team. Junior defensive end Denzil Ware was named second team while junior safety Mike Edwards and linebacker Jordan Jones were selected third team.
Ware returns as one of Kentucky’s leading pass rushers as he ranked second on the team in total sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (12.0) last year. He has started in 24 of 25 career games for the Wildcats, including 19 consecutive.
Edwards led all SEC defensive backs in tackles in 2016 with 100 and was one of just six players overall in the league with 100 or more tackles. He ranked second on the team and seventh overall in the SEC in tackles per game (7.7) and tied for 10th in the conference in total passes defended (11). He was a second-team Associated Press All-SEC selection, and was a third-team pick by Athlon and Phil Steele.
He had two interceptions of Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in Kentucky’s win over No. 11 Louisville in 2016, earning him SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week. The Cincinnati native is currently on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to college football’s top defensive back.
Jones was named to the first-team defense in 2016 after leading the SEC in solo tackles per game (5.7). Overall, he led UK and ranked third in the league in total tackles per game with 8.4. He finished the season with 109 tackles and led the Wildcats with 15.5 tackles for loss.
Last season, UK finished with an overall record of 7-6 and tied for second in the SEC East with Tennessee and Georgia, all at 4-4 in league play.
Georgia was selected to win the SEC East with 138 first-place votes, narrowly sliding by two-time defending division champ Florida.
Alabama was picked to win the West Division in a landslide, picking up 225 first-place votes compared to 13 for Auburn, which was selected second, and four for LSU, which was picked to come in third.
The Cats’ two SEC West opponents this season, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, were picked to finish at the bottom of the division.
Voting by media who cover SEC football (first-place votes in parentheses):
South Carolina (5)