If the Cats and quarterback Morgan Newton had managed to win the BBVA Compass Bowl to end last season and finish 7-6 instead of 6-7, maybe the buzz would be a little louder this pre-season. But the coaches and players claim they're going to surprise some people this year behind a revamped veteran defense that stars players like Danny Trevathan. They also say that even though the offense lost the firepower that was Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, Mike Hartline and Chris Matthews, they return a talented group to replace those players, and a veteran offensive line that can buy some time early as the offense develops and evolves.
La'Rod King: An impressive class of freshmen wide receivers has pushed the 6-foot-4 junior to improve his game to keep his starting spot. King, who had 36 catches for 478 yards and five touchdowns last season, has some swagger about him, and he has good on-field chemistry with Newton.
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Biggest Area of concern
Wide receivers: Before the season started, Coach Joker Phillips didn't hesitate when asked this question. He said a group of freshmen and mostly unproven veterans is going to have to develop quickly to make UK a serious offensive threat. There seems to be a good mix of size and speed, veterans and newcomers, but will they jell with one another and their new quarterback in time to win key games?
Most important unit
Quarterback: Newton seems to have grown into a mature leader this summer and has the trust of the coaches and the offense. He's calm in the huddle and encouraging of his teammates, but that has to carry the Cats through the tough times. There might be lots of them when the Cats get to the SEC portion of the season. Newton may be asked to win games with his arm and his legs this season.
Louisiana State: Playing a top-five team at your place is tough enough. Playing the Tigers at their place with an inexperienced offense could be a recipe for disaster.
Louisville: If the Cats want to make it to their school-record sixth straight bowl game, a win over Louisville probably will turn out to be a must. A loss also would snap UK's string of four straight wins over the Cardinals and could lead to rumbling and grumbling from the fan base early.
Mississippi: If you get the team picked last in the tough SEC West on your home field, that's a game you have to win.
Game that will pack the house
Louisville: There are so many question marks surrounding both teams, which both have second-year coaches and new personnel at so many key positions. Cats fans want to see the win streak continue, and Louisville would like this to be the year it ends. Plus, it's Cats vs. Cards, which sells out in almost every sport every season. Toughest road trip
Louisiana State: See previous note, although the trip to Columbia to face South Carolina the next week isn't going to be easy after UK upset the Gamecocks last season and broke an 0-for-17 streak against Coach Steve Spurrier.
Tennessee: The Volunteers' hold over Kentucky ends on Senior Day. The nation's longest losing streak to a single opponent will end at 26 games in a UK victory. Grandfathers lamenting the fact that their grandchildren will never see a Kentucky football team beat Tennessee again will be storming the Commonwealth Stadium field no matter what the teams' records are come Nov. 26.
Best non-UK players we'll see
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina: A projected top-five NFL Draft pick, the 6-foot-4 wide receiver is a matchup problem for even the best defense.
Stephon Gillmore, South Carolina: One of the nation's most versatile players, the 6-1 junior cornerback could join Jeffery in the NFL Draft's first round after this season. Gillmore does more than his defensive duties, including returning punts and serving as quarterback in USC's version of the "wildcat" formation.
Also: CB Morris Claiborne, Louisiana State; OT Cordy Glenn, Georgia; LB Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
Best possible bowl destination
Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 2, 1 p.m., ESPN2): With the East Division down and several other SEC teams in rebuilding mode, this could be prime time for the Cats to get to a sunny, happy destination come bowl season. A trip to Jacksonville to face a decent Big Ten opponent might be fun.
Worst possible bowl destination
BBVA Compass Bowl (Birmingham, Ala., Jan. 7, 1 p.m., ESPN): The loss in this bowl last season left a bad taste in the mouths of Cats fans. It's hard to imagine them wanting to make the drive to see something similar this season.
Most likely bowl destination
Music City Bowl (Nashville, Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m., ESPN): This would be the Cats' third game in Nashville this season, making the Music City as familiar to Cats fans as Atlanta for basketball tournaments.
Records Cats could break
Kentucky will attempt to extend its school-record string of five consecutive bowl games.
Hope for the future
Even if UK's offense struggles early this season, it likely will have almost every player at every skill position back next year, which could make the Cats dangerous even with a young line. UK's 6-7 record last season hasn't seemed to hurt recruiting efforts so far this season.
Big Blue Meter
The season is a success if ... UK finds a way to take an untested offense and parlay it into a better-than-.500 record and a reasonable bowl game.
The season will be a disappointment if ... the offense never takes off and the new defensive scheme gives up so many big plays that the Cats fail to make it to any kind of bowl game.