Mark Story

Blue Preview: Your guide to UK’s football opener vs. Central Michigan

The University of Kentucky kicks off its 128th season of football when the Wildcats host Central Michigan at Kroger Field on Saturday.
The University of Kentucky kicks off its 128th season of football when the Wildcats host Central Michigan at Kroger Field on Saturday. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Central Michigan at Kentucky

When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Kroger Field

TV: ESPNU (play-by-play, Kevin Brown; analyst, Andre Ware)

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 192, Sirius Channel 108

Records: Kentucky 0-0, Central Michigan 0-0

Series: Kentucky leads 6-0

Last meeting: Kentucky beat Central Michigan 27-13 on Sept. 10, 2011, at Kroger Field (which was then known as Commonwealth Stadium).

Favorite: Kentucky is favored by 17 points

The story line

Kentucky opens its 2018 season needing an impressive showing against a Central Michigan program that has beaten a power-five conference foe the past two seasons — 30-27 over No. 22 Oklahoma State in 2016; 45-27 over Kansas last year. The Chippewas have only 10 starters back from last season’s 8-5 team. Since 2006, UK is 9-0 against Mid-American Conference foes with an average winning margin of 25.2 points.

StoopsMediaDay2.JPG
Mark Stoops is 3-2 in season-opening games as Kentucky Wildcats head football coach. Curtis Compton TNS

The big threat

Running back Jonathan Ward took over as CMU’s primary ball carrier down the stretch last season, running for 625 yards in the final five games. Ward, a junior from Kankakee, Ill., finished the season with 1,019 rushing yards (5.7 yards a carry) and 10 touchdowns. Also a major threat in the passing game, the 6-foot, 202-pound Ward was second for Coach John Bonamego’s Chippewas in receiving last season with 48 catches for 470 yards and three touchdowns.

On the spot

Terry Wilson. Mark Stoops announced Monday that the junior-college transfer, who redshirted his freshman season at Oregon in 2016, will start vs. Central Michigan. A dual-threat quarterback, Wilson’s speed could give the Cats’ offense a new dimension. This year is the first time Kentucky has entered a season without a quarterback on its roster who has ever started an FBS game since 2008.

Terry Wilson will compete with Gunnar Hoak for Kentucky’s starting quarterback position during training camp. A junior college transfer, Wilson talked at media day about what he brings to the battle.

Gunnar Hoak is competing with Terry Wilson for the starting quarterback position during Kentrucky’s fall football camp. At the team’s media day, Hoak was asked what he saw as his advantage in the battle.



The mood

Is indifference. It was reported late last week that only 40,000 tickets had been distributed at that time for the 2018 Kentucky season opener in the 61,000-seat Kroger Field. By last weekend, UK was offering its faculty and staff a “buy one ticket, get one ticket free” deal and Wildcats men’s basketball coach John Calipari was on Twitter imploring Cats fans to support the football team. For a Kentucky season in which the Wildcats are returning 17 starters from a bowl team, there is a stark absence of “buzz.” Beating a MAC opponent won’t change that, but winning impressively would help.



Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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