Junior offensive tackle Landon Young thinks consecutive seven-win seasons have justified the belief he had in Kentucky football when he committed to the hometown Wildcats.
“I think there is no ceiling for this program. I think it is going to go exponentially higher after this and I think this is just stepping stones and putting building blocks on top of one another,” said Young. “I think it will just keep getting better and better.”
But will it?
Kentucky has more experience and depth than coach Mark Stoops has had at Kentucky. He has two stars — running back Benny Snell and linebacker Josh Allen — that could play for any SEC team.
Still, Kentucky has a lot to prove this year with what seems to be a more challenging schedule.
First, no way I could pick UK winning at Tennessee or Florida. Kentucky has not won in Knoxville since 1984 so despite Tennessee’s 0-8 league mark in 2017, I have to see a UK win in Knoxville to believe it. Same with the Gators. The Cats have not won at Florida since 1979 and have not beat the Gators since 1986. Florida was only 4-7 last season, but history counts in my book.
Second, Kentucky won’t beat Georgia. The Bulldogs should have won the national championship last year and will have more talent than any team UK faces all season.
Third, Kentucky will beat Central Michigan, Murray and Middle Tennessee. Murray is 10-23 the last three years. Central Michigan has been to four straight bowls but lost a big-time quarterback. Middle Tennessee is no gimme. The Blue Raiders return quarterback Brent Stockstill, a prolific passer, and former UK offensive coordinator Tony Franklin has the same role for Middle. But this is a game UK should win.
The key is a four-game stretch where UK hosts Mississippi State and South Carolina, goes to Texas A&M and then hosts Vanderbilt. For a special season, UK needs to go 3-1 in that stretch — and I think they can.
New coach Jimbo Fisher has a ton of talent at A&M, so that means UK needs to sweep the three home games.
Mississippi State, 9-4 last year, probably has more talent than A&M. But it also has a new coach in Joe Moorhead and the game is in Lexington. Nick Fitzgerald is a big-time quarterback but if UK’s defense is going to be as good as Stoops hopes, Kentucky can win this game.
South Carolina, also 9-4 last year, is the new darling of the SEC. But Kentucky won 23-13 at South Carolina last year and Stoops has four straight wins over the Gamecocks. That’s history on UK’s side.
Vanderbilt, 5-7 last year, has not had a winning season under coach Derek Mason. This is a game UK has to win at home — and will.
So if UK gets the six home wins I am counting on and loses on the road to Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M as well as at home to Georgia, that leaves UK at 6-4 with games at Missouri and Louisville.
Missouri, 7-6 last year, won its last six games and averaged over 50 points per game. It returns quarterback Drew Lock but the defense was shaky last year. Kentucky has won three straight over the Tigers, so I like the UK history here again.
That leaves Louisville, 8-5 last year. Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is gone and the team has a lot of questions on defense. But remember, like him or not, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino has owned UK during his time at Louisville and, once again, I have to see UK beat him to believe it.
So add it all up and I see another 7-5 season and bowl bid for Kentucky — which might not be as good as some want but certainly is better than a losing season. Plus, if UK can break some historical trends, maybe the season turns out even better than I anticipate.