I'm a bit more optimistic than many about Mark Stoops' first season as Kentucky head football coach.
Then again, the reader should beware: Eight times since 2000, I've picked UK to win more football games in the pre-season than the Cats ultimately won.
Wes t ern K y.
Aug. 31 at Nashville
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Hope: Kentucky won't throw four interceptions against WKU again and will be exceptionally motivated after last season's Hilltoppers' victory in Commonwealth Stadium.
Nope: The three proven star-quality players in this game — Antonio Andrews, Andrew Jackson and Jonathan Dowling — all play for WKU. Bobby Petrino is 4-0 as a head coach in season-opening games against Kentucky.
My guess: Kentucky 31, Western Kentucky 28
Miami ( Ohi o )
Sept. 7 at Commonwealth Stadium
Hope: Since the 2004 home loss to Ohio, Kentucky is 6-0 against MAC teams and has won those games by an average of 36.2 to 15.5. Miami went 4-8 last season and is picked fifth in the MAC East.
Nope: Cornerback Dayonne Nunley (three interceptions in 2012) is one of the best players in the MAC, and receivers Nick Harwell (eight TD catches) and Dawan Scott (seven TD receptions) are capable.
My guess: Kentucky 42, Miami 17
L o uisville
Sept. 14 at Commonwealth Stadium
Hope: U of L will be heavily favored, but in the modern history of the Governor's Cup rivalry, favorites are only 11-8 straight up. In last season's 32-14 loss to the Cards, UK moved the ball effectively but was done in by two red-zone fumbles.
Nope: With star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, ex-Auburn standout running back Michael Dyer and a receiving corps led by DeVante Parker, Louisville's offensive skill players are as good as any team's in the country.
My guess: Louisville 38, Kentucky 21
Sept. 28 at Commonwealth Stadium
Hope: UK comes into the game off an open date, where Florida enters from a meeting with Tennessee. After being outscored a combined 94-3 in the first quarter by the Mighty Gators from 2008-11, UK only lost the first period 3-0 last year.
Nope: Florida has beaten Kentucky 26 times in a row, and the Gators figure to have extra incentive in 2013 to win in Commonwealth Stadium for their new wide receivers coach — Joker Phillips.
My guess: Florida 35, Kentucky 16
S o uth Car o lina
Oct. 5 at Columbia, S.C.
Hope: For UK, it has to be better than the all-systems failure it experienced while getting plastered 54-3 on its prior trip to Columbia in 2011. Kentucky was outgained 639-96 in that one and had this horrid stat line: six turnovers, six first downs, three points.
Nope: This looks to be Steve Spurrier's most talented South Carolina team. Freakishly gifted end Jadeveon Clowney and his defensive mates sacked UK QBs eight times last year.
My guess: South Carolina 45, Kentucky 13
A l abama
Oct. 12 at Commonwealth Stadium
Hope: The last time the Crimson Tide came to Lexington to face Kentucky in the year (1997) when an Air Raid attack was being installed, UK stunned Bama 40-34 in overtime.
Nope: That Alabama was coached by Mike DuBose and finished 4-7; the current Alabama is led by Nick Saban and has won the national championship three times in the past four years.
My guess: Alabama 41, Kentucky 10
Mi s sissippi St.
Oct. 24 at Starkville, Miss.
Hope: Kentucky has won on two of its last three trips to Starkville.
Nope: UK is 0-4 against State since Dan Mullen became Bulldogs head man — even though three of those games were played in Lexington.
My guess: Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 21
A l aba m a St.
Nov. 2 at Commonwealth Stadium
Hope: UK has played a team from the FCS in eight straight seasons and has gone 8-0 in those contests with an average victory margin of 28.8 points.
Nope: Alabama State is 22-12 over the three prior seasons and played competitively in its only other matchup against an FBS team, a 14-7 loss at Eastern Michigan in 2011.
My guess: Kentucky 49, Alabama State 14
Mis s o uri
Nov. 9 at Commonwealth Stadium
Hope: Mizzou makes its first trip to Lexington as an SEC member coming off a disappointing 5-7 debut last season. To elevate UK football, Missouri is a team the Cats need to beat with some frequency.
Nope: Quarterback James Franklin hurt UK off the bench last season and is looking for a bounce-back year after a rocky 2012. Mizzou will be looking for more production from sophomore wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, a five-star recruit in 2012.
My guess: Kentucky 28, Missouri 26
Nov. 16 at Nashville
Hope: UK should have ample motivation after being whacked a combined 78-8 in the past two seasons by Vandy. The Commodores will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and have faced an off-season of off-the-field turmoil.
Nope: It's asking a lot to close a 40-point gap (Vanderbilt whipped Kentucky 40-0 last year) in one season. Especially when VU has star-caliber players returning in wideouts Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, cornerback Andre Hal and safety Kenny Ladler.
My guess: Vanderbilt 31, Kentucky 23
G e o r gia
Nov. 23 at Athens, Ga.
Hope: For whatever reason, the Cats have played the Dawgs tough in recent years. UK beat UGa in 2006 and '09 and haven't been blown out by the Bulldogs since 2005 (45-13).
Nope: With nine offensive starters back, led by QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley and WR Malcolm Mitchell, Mark Richt should field the most explosive attack in the SEC.
My guess: Georgia 34, Kentucky 19
Nov. 30 at Commonwealth Stadium
Hope: On UT's last three trips to Commonwealth Stadium, the Vols have lost (2011), won in overtime (2009) and won in four overtimes (2007).
Nope: Tennessee returns four offensive line starters, eight defensive starters (albeit off a horrid 2012 D) and Butch Jones has energized the UT program in the same way Mark Stoops has UK.
My guess: Kentucky 27, Tennessee 24
Season prediction: Kentucky finishes 5-7.