UK football's four opportunities to have a breakthrough season
Kentucky at Southern Mississippi
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
Where: Hattiesburg, Miss.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 191, Sirius Channel 112
Records: Kentucky 0-0 (7-6 in 2016), Southern Mississippi 0-0 (7-6)
Series: Kentucky leads 2-1
Last meeting: Southern Mississippi won 44-35 on Sept. 3, 2016, in Lexington
Line: Kentucky is favored by 10 points
The story line
Kentucky opens the fifth season of the Mark Stoops coaching era seeking vengeance on Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles of Conference USA stunned the Cats a season ago by rallying from 35-10 down to win the 2016 season opener 44-35.
On the spot
Mark Stoops. A year ago, Southern Mississippi offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson — who Stoops fired from the same position at UK after the 2015 season — embarrassed UK to the tune of 44 points, 96 offensive plays, 304 yards rushing and 520 yards of total offense. The only thing worse for Stoops than last year’s episode of “Dawson’s Revenge” would be a repeat showing.
The big threat
Ito Smith burned Kentucky for 173 yards rushing plus 40 yards more on five receptions last season. The performance in Lexington launched the 5-foot-9, 193-pound running back to a banner junior season, in which he ran for 1,459 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught 43 passes for 459 yards. To win, UK has to slow down the senior from Mobile, Ala.
Seems more “guarded” than “optimistic.” Kentucky enters 2017 off its first winning season since 2009, but UK season ticket sales have been so-so at best. As we saw last season, an early-season defeat to Southern Mississippi does not inevitably derail a Wildcats season. However, an impressive road victory by UK would inject energy into the Kentucky football “Cat-mosphere.”