UK Football

John Clay: Seeing Kentucky footballs future

In our college football preview section, Mark Story takes a swing at picking the Kentucky football season, but then why should my cohort be saddled with all the pressure, and blame?

The season’s defining question is whether the significant losses on offense can be offset by Kentucky’s experience and talent on defense.

With that in mind, here goes:

At Louisville

After last season’s deflating 6-6 balance sheet, sophomore coach Steve Kragthorpe could use a cold-cocking of the Cats to shake Planet Red off his back. Don’t expect a knockout punch here, instead more of a grinder. And truth be told, the brain has flip-flopped many times on picking the outcome, but it keeps coming back to the fact U of L boasts the game’s lone experienced quarterback, Hunter Cantwell.

My guess: Louisville 20, Kentucky 13.

vs. Norfolk State

Remember, Rich Brooks turned down a Monday night prime-time date with U of L for fear four short days would not be enough prep time for nasty Norfolk State. Playing the Cards on Sunday gives the Cats an extra day to work on their take-a-knee play.

My guess: Kentucky 42, Norfolk State 7.

vs. Middle Tennessee

The Cats have a raucous history with MTSU, dating to that 1982 NCAA Basketball Tournament when the Blue Raiders’ upset of Joe B. Hall’s Cats spoiled a possible dream game with Louisville. Then, on the gridiron in 2002, the two squads had a fist-throwing brawl. Don’t expect that much excitement this time around.

My guess: Kentucky 34, Middle Tennessee 14.

vs. Western Kentucky

The Hilltoppers’ transition to big-boy football includes a national tour of college grid powers where WKU acts as tomato can, then puts its paycheck toward stadium expansion. Once admitted to the Football Bowl Subdivison, Western could shine in the Sun Belt, but not the SEC.

My guess: Kentucky 30, WKU 7.

at Alabama

Year one in Tuscaloosa didn’t convince anyone that the handsomely compensated Nick Saban is ready for a houndstooth hat, but UK has never had much luck with the Crimson Tide in any sport involving chin straps.

My guess: Alabama 23, Kentucky 3.

vs. South Carolina

The first of the season’s back-to-back, make-or-break combo. Kentucky has never been able to wipe that smirk off Steve Spurrier’s face. There’s no time like now.

My guess: Kentucky 20, South Carolina 10.

vs. Arkansas

Rich Brooks has worn the golden sombrero, going 0-4 against the mercenary Bobby Petrino. But that was when Petrino was rolling along in that Louisville wagon train. He’s been hit by a few arrows since then.

My guess: Kentucky 24, Arkansas 14.

at Florida

The surprising Cats will be 5-2 when they roll into “The Swamp,” only to be swamped. My pick to win the national title, Florida has a flood of talent on both sides of the ball. And Florida Field is no place for an inexperienced quarterback.

My guess: Florida 35, Kentucky 7.

at Mississippi State

Yes, we know MSU mashed the Cats 31-14 in Lexington last season. But the Brooks bunch got caught in a perfect storm that day. It was emotionally drained, and it couldn’t stop turning the ball over. Plus, UK has played well in Starkville.

My guess: Kentucky 28, Mississippi State 21.

vs. Georgia

By the time the Bulldogs land at Blue Grass Airport they will either be storming toward a BCS slot or a team in ruins. Neither the off-season nor training camp has been kind to Mark Richt, a fact lost on poll voters. Even with a bruised bottom lip, the Dogs will be tough to beat.

My guess: Georgia 21, Kentucky 10.

vs. Vanderbilt

Bobby Johnson might be the best coach who has never been to a bowl game, and the guy who will stand across the field on this day is the main reason. Brooks has Bobby J.’s number, for some reason.

My guess: Kentucky 31, Vanderbilt 28.

at Tennessee

Just recently, a friend and UK alumnus told me that he had begun dating his future wife, a UT graduate, just before the Cats beat the Vols in 1984. Luckily, he said, he was a gracious winner that day. That has served his marriage well over the years, given that Kentucky hasn’t beaten Tennessee since.

My guess: Tennessee 27, Kentucky 13.

Bowl Prognosis

Final season record: 7-5 with a trip to the Liberty Bowl.