John Clay

Three takeaways from this year’s SEC Football Media Days

Three takeaways from SEC Media Days:

1. No surprises in the media predictions: As you might have expected, media members attending the annual four-day extravaganza overwhelmingly picked Alabama to win the SEC West Division and overwhelmingly picked Georgia to win the SEC East Division. Bama received 253 of the 260 first-place votes in the West. Georgia received 233 of the 260 first-place votes in the East. The two met in last year’s SEC title game. Most everyone expects they will be making a return visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

As well, it was no great surprise that Kentucky was picked sixth in the East, ahead of only Vanderbilt. That’s a source of irritation and motivation for the Cats, but the voters were no doubt looking at UK’s history combined with the heavy losses to graduation, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

I think UK will fare better than sixth. A favorable schedule, led by eight homes games, plus the culture of winning established last year, should help. After Georgia and Florida, you could probably pitch Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, UK and Vandy in a hat and pull out the division’s third-place team. Injuries always play a role.

2. Lynn Bowden got jobbed by the All-SEC voters: UK’s junior star didn’t make the pre-season All-SEC team at receiver. Never mind that he caught a school sophomore record with 67 catches last season. And with Benny Snell having moved on to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, Bowden’s role in Eddie Gran’s offense is likely to increase in 2019. As UK head coach Mark Stoops said Thursday in Hoover, “We have to find ways to get him the ball.”

Also overlooked has been the improvement Bowden, a high school quarterback, has made at the wide receiver position. He caught 17 balls as a freshman. His catch total improved by 50 last year. And, as Bowden himself pointed out Thursday, his development has come against SEC defensive backs, by far some of the best in the nation.

Bowden did make the All-SEC pre-season third team as an all-purpose player. He has returned kickoffs his first two seasons, but not many punts. He says that will change this year, now that David Bouvier has graduated. He’s a threat every time he touches the football.

3. Trench warfare will be UK’s strength this season: Offensive lineman Logan Stenberg and Drake Jackson were voted third-team All-SEC. Stenberg returns at left guard. Jackson is the starting center. And even though the Cats lost a pair of starters off last year’s line in Bunchy Stallings and George Asafo-Adjei, they appear to have plenty of quality returning.

That includes Landon Young, the sophomore offensive tackle who missed last year after tearing his ACL just before pre-season camp. The former Lafayette star should start at left tackle alongside Stenberg at left guard.

“He’s been looking great,” said Stenberg, who was one of the three players UK brought to Hoover. “He’s super strong in the weight room. He spent the whole year getting his upper body ridiculous. So he should have the hand strength and chest strength to move anybody he wants.

Meanwhile, on the defensive side, Stoops said he realizes what UK is missing off last year’s stingy unit, but he pointed to what the Cats do have.

“You always want to start up the middle,” said the coach. “And we’re as solid as we’ve been since I’ve been there up the middle with the three interior guys, the depth we have there. Inside linebacker, we’re as deep and as talented as we’ve been since I’ve been. And we have some safeties and tickles with experience.”

Linebacker Kash Daniel was voted third-team pre-season All-SEC by the media, but the defense will hang its hat on the guys in front of him. That list includes Quinton Bohanna, Phil Hoskins, Kordell Looney, Marquan McCall, T.J. Carter and Calvin Taylor. It all starts up front.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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