Sidelines with John Clay

Are we being too positive about Kentucky football for 2017?

Let’s take a quick look at the headlines:

Everything’s easier for Kentucky offense now: ‘We trust the plays’

Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad sees ‘night and day’ difference after shoulder surgery

Drew Barker looks like the old Drew Barker

Practice report: Punters averages are improving

Kentucky football smart to go deep, plus more random notes

Kentucky football’s most promising returnee is offensive stability

Spot a trend? Kentucky’s fall football camp has been packed with positive buzz. The Cats return 17 starters. They’re fresh off a seven-win season that included a bowl trip. It’s not just the local press that is bullish. SEC Network analyst Chris Doering, the former Florida wide receiver, said recently he thought Kentucky could win nine games this season.

Here’s the contrarian question: Is the coverage too positive?

This is Kentucky football, after all, a program with a long history of struggling to win on a consistent basis. It’s the same Kentucky that hasn’t produced a winning record in SEC play since 1977, that suffered through five straight losing seasons before finally reaching the elusive six-win mark last season.

To be sure, there are questions about this 2017 edition. Can UK replace Boom Williams’ 1,000-plus rushing yards from last year? Can quarterback Stephen Johnson hold on to the football? Who will replace Jeff Badet, the team’s leader in receiving yards last season? Will the defensive line be improved? Can Kentucky do a better job stopping the run?

My colleague Mark Story lists five good questions about the 2017 Kentucky Wildcats football team.

This is traditionally the time of year for optimism, of course. Every team is 0-0. Hope springs eternal. Strengths breed confidence. Weaknesses are subject to wishful thinking.

It’s just that Kentucky football hasn’t been in this position for quite awhile. It returns both the quarterback (Drew Barker) who won the job last year and the one (Stephen Johnson) who took over in the season’s third game and led the Cats to seven victories. It returns a back (Benny Snell) who rushed for 1,000 yards as a true freshman last season. It returns four starters on the offensive line. It returns a linebacker (Jordan Jones) who is preseason All-SEC heading into his junior season. It returns nearly all of its secondary and a pair of promising outside linebackers (Denzil Ware and Josh Allen).

Given all that, there’s still a mentality about Kentucky football that often tips toward the negative.

“I know everyone is expecting us to fall,” said senior offensive tackle Kyle Meadows last week.

That’s the traditional “everyone is against us” position that players and teams love to take. Shoulders with not just pads but chips. Even Alabama, preseason No. 1 in most polls, probably has players telling the press that no one thinks the Crimson Tide can get it done.

And there are always unexpected pitfalls. There will be injuries. There will be players who don’t perform to their potential. There will be a bad bounce or two. Remember, this is a team that went 7-6 last season that ranked 107th nationally in turnover margin. That doesn’t often happen.

And can the Cats handle the prosperity of reaching a bowl last season? Will they rest on their laurels? Are they satisfied with that? Did they work hard enough over the summer?

So far, anyway, the vibe from this Kentucky football camp has been positive. So has the coverage.

Too positive?

Kentucky football 2017 schedule

Date

Opponent

Site

9/2

Southern Miss

Away

9/9

Eastern Kentucky

Home

9/16

South Carolina

Away

9/23

Florida

Home

9/30

Eastern Michigan

Home

10/7

Missouri

Home

10/21

Mississippi State

Away

10/28

Tennessee

Home

11/4

Ole Miss

Home

11/11

Vanderbilt

Away

11/18

Georgia

Away

11/25

Louisville

Home

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