UK Football

Cats' schedule promises banner season

John Clay
John Clay

I was ready to grab the gloom.

When it came to the annual autumn rite of hauling the crystal ball out of the attic and assigning specific win-loss numbers to the Kentucky football season, I was prepared to give in to the negatives.

After all, four starters are missing from the all-important offensive line. Corey Peters, Trevard Lindley and Micah Johnson, among others, are gone from the defense. The staff couldn't decide on a quarterback until 16 practices into fall camp. There's a new head coach, Joker Phillips, and transition is always tricky.

Then, I studied the most important element in any college football team's season.

The schedule.

No Alabama. No Arkansas. No Louisiana State.

Suddenly, the clouds parted and sunshine appeared.

Things looked much brighter, after all.

So let's get started.

■ Sept. 4, at Louisville: Battle of the new head coaches, but a friendly feud. UK's Phillips and U of L's Charlie Strong are buds as well as first-year head coaches. But Joker has the edge. He's been an important part of the Kentucky program for the past eight years. Strong is starting anew at the 'Ville. Continuity counts. Kentucky 27, Louisville 14.

■ Sept. 11, Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers also have a new head coach, Willie Taggart, and a long losing streak. No wonder UK AD Mitch Barnhart signed the boys from Bowling Green to a long-term series. Taggart will do well at WKU. Just not yet. Kentucky 45, Western Kentucky 10.

■ Sept. 18, Akron: The MAC team was 3-9 last year, with the 113th-ranked scoring offense in the nation. Southeastern Conference schools don't lose to Zips. Kentucky 38, Akron 7.

■ Sept. 25, at Florida: The return trip to Gainesville might bring acid flashbacks of that 63-5 loss at The Swamp two years ago. This one won't be quite as horrific. Florida 34, Kentucky 14.

■ Oct. 2, at Ole Miss: Big game. Translation, winnable game. Kentucky beat Auburn and Georgia on the road last year. It can rock the Rebels in Oxford this year. Kentucky 27, Ole Miss 21.

■ Oct. 9, Auburn: Alabama's other team is underrated. It's the second year of Coach Gene Chizik's system. He has recruited well. Auburn rises up and avenges last year's loss. Auburn 17, Kentucky 14.

■ Oct. 16, South Carolina: Just when the SEC East door swings open, the Gamecocks stub their toes on a hotel doorstop. The hotel where Steve Spurrier's players were staying at allegedly reduced rates, it turns out. Ten straight losses to Carolina are 10 too many. Kentucky 20, South Carolina 19.

■ Oct. 23, Georgia: Dawg fans are barking at Mark Richt these days, so the Georgia coach can't afford back-to-back losses to Kentucky. Georgia 31, Kentucky 21.

■ Oct. 30, at Mississippi State: Big game. Translation, winnable game. Lose both games to the Mississippi schools and the page views on go through the roof. Split with the Mississippi schools and it's a so-so year. Beat both Mississippi schools and dream big. Time to work on some dreams. Kentucky 31, Mississippi State 28.

■ Nov. 6, Charleston Southern: Admit it, you had no idea there was a Charleston Southern, and you certainly had no idea Charleston Southern had a football team. Kentucky 49, Charleston Southern 0.

■ Nov. 13, Vanderbilt: New Commodores coach Robbie Caldwell is so funny he should appear at Comedy Off Broadway the night before the game. Comedy is hard. So is winning in the SEC, especially for Vanderbilt. Kentucky 23, Vanderbilt 10.

■ Nov. 27, at Tennessee: I like the anti-Lane Kiffin. I think Derek Dooley will do big things for the Big Orange. He has a big mess to clean up first. Time for Rocky Top to tumble. Finally. Kentucky 16, Tennessee 13.

The abacus says that figures out to a 9-3 record. Common sense says that's crazy. We're talking Kentucky football, after all. But look at last year, when I picked the Cats 8-4, and they finished 7-5. They should have beaten South Carolina in Columbia. They should have beaten Tennessee in Lexington.

No reason they can't pick up those two wins this year. If 9-3 sounds crazy, the schedule says it's doable. Let go of the gloom. Time to shine.