Category Archives: Florida Gators
The words ‘fun’, ‘Kentucky’, and ‘football’ don’t normally belong in the same paragraph, let alone sentence. But I’m here to tell you: they were entertaining and explosive last year. They return enough on offense (and possibly enough competency on defense, outside the loss of Bud Dupree) to compete for a bowl.
What Happened Last Year?
Mark Stoops’ second season saw continued improvement from their year 1 results, as they snapped a 17-game SEC losing streak early against Vanderbilt and followed it up with a shootout win against South Carolina. Matter of fact, they took Florida to triple OT in The Swamp before those two successes, so they just narrowly missed a 6-0 start.
The wheels then came off in a 41-3 loss at LSU, but they held their own in the SEC’s weirdest possible 3:30 CBS kickoff: #1 Mississippi State at Kentucky. The 45-31 loss was more competitive than the final score would indicate. They were then competitive in road losses to Mizzou and Louisville…but not so much against Georgia and Tennessee.
Put it all together, and you have 9 games in which the Wildcats were competitive. They return 7 starters on each side of the ball, including a much-improved QB Patrick Towles.
Three Key Games
First off, their nonconference schedule includes Louisiana-Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, and Charlotte in the 49ers’ first power-5 game. Find three wins between the SEC and Louisville, and the ‘Cats are bowling for the first time since 2010.
Sept. 19, Florida: Fresh off taking the Gators to triple OT last year, Kentucky has the good fortune of drawing the Gators early, before their new offense is battle-tested.
Sept. 26, Missouri: Had this as a key for Mizzou as well, but it should shape up as a shakedown for middle-of-the-pack versus towards-the-bottom in the SEC East. That’s right, if Kentucky holds serve in September, they should be able to comfortably hit the 6-win plateau.
Nov. 28, Louisville: Assuming losses at South Carolina, home against Auburn, and at Mississippi State and Georgia, the two above and Tennessee become their swing games. They played the fighting Petrinos close in Louisville last year, and both the four-game losing streak to their rivals and the dangling carrot of 15 extra bowl practices should serve as proper motivation.
Five Key Players:
Melvin Lewis, DT: He held his starting NT job over the very large and very hyped Matt Elam last year, and responded as a pretty good two-gap stuffer. If he fails, the nose grows from 342 to 365 in this form:
Jon Toth, C: The only Kentucky OL among 4 returning starters on any of Phil Steele’s All-SEC teams, Toth has anchored the line for the entire Stoops era.
Patrick Towles, QB: Already the best offensive back at Kentucky since Andre Woodson, Towles started strong but finished with relatively pedestrian numbers: 14 TD, 9 Int, 57.3% completions. Given the fact that the team had its highest scoring output since 2010 with those numbers, any improvement should prove huge for the Wildcats.
Josh Forrest, MLB: Takes over as the most recognizable defensive player on the team, and they’re going to need his production. He actually led the team (Dupree included) with 7 tackles for loss and 110 total.
Dorian Baker/Garrett Johnson, WR: Slated to take over two of the three starting spots, both put up around 20 catches for 200 yards and a couple TD’s as true freshmen. If one of them can step up opposite leading receiver Ryan Timmons, the O should take the next step.
In case you haven’t noticed, Kentucky’s success in 2015 will be defined strictly by whether they’re playing a 13th game. I think it’s time for them to do just that.
Do you know how hard it is to say to yourself, “yeah, I could be right, but let’s play it safe so I don’t look like an idiot”?
I do it on a daily basis, and it applies here. I wanted to pick Ole Miss to win the SEC West. Reasons being:
– The nation’s best defense;
– Everyone ELSE is losing their QB too, Ole Miss is the only one losing someone guaranteed to lose them games (RIP, Dr. Bo);
– Nobody else I’ve seen has had the balls to do it.
Alas, I also lacked the cojones. Coming in at #2 in the West, Ole Miss.
What Happened Last Year?
In the Fall of the Mississippis, Ole Miss joined Mississippi State in enjoying an epic ascendance to the top of the polls followed by a precipitous and somewhat disastrous drop.
On the strength of a 7-0 start including wins over Boise, Alabama, and at Texas A&M, the Black Bears rose to #3 in the polls at a time where that was good enough to put four SEC West teams in the top 10. Then the injuries came. Consecutive heartbreaking losses against LSU and Auburn (as always with stupid Auburn magic, not GIF-fing the way Ole Miss lost that one) followed. An inexplicable shutout loss at Arkansas came two weeks later.
After beating Mississippi State, well…their second trip to Atlanta didn’t work out so well.
42-3 losses sting. Much more coming off your program’s breakout year. Even moreso in a bowl game. But the worst is knowing that the final score should’ve been even worse. One doesn’t come out -300 yards that relatively unscathed that often.
Three Key Games
Hell, after the TCU game, they’re all key. But…
Oct. 3 at Florida: Let’s assume that vengeful Saban gets a home win on Sept. 19, and that Ole Miss recovers to beat Vandy the following week. After that, all of the games are…pretty winnable! Don’t be the team Florida gets to point to as a turnaround point, Ole Miss.
Oct. 31 at Auburn: So, pretty tough road slate, huh? This is kindof the anti-Texas A&M. Ole Miss’ top opponents are road tilts when you consider the fact that the Egg Bowl visitor (which Ole Miss is) is 2-14 the last 16 years.
Nov. 21 LSU: The disclaimer up top preassumes that I think a West title is still in play at this point. As such…
Five Players to Watch
ROV Tony Conner: One of my favorite players to watch in the SEC, Conner can drop into coverage as a true safety or lay the wood in run support. At 6’0 220, he’s not QUITE your prototypical box safety size, but he’s close and it doesn’t matter.
DE Marquis Haynes: The sophomore won’t get the hype of the Nkemdiche brothers, but led the team in sacks as a true freshman with 7.5.
LT Laremy Tunsil: World’s greatest domestic abuser and one of the four guys from that inexplicable recruiting class of 2012 that merits ‘could be a marquee player anywhere’ consideration, Tunsil is the rare O-lineman whose name we know better than the QB’s. Unless the QB’s name is…
QB Chad Kelly: Oh, shit.
I don’t know if this represents progress from Dr. Bo.
TE Evan Engram: The best TE in the SEC, assuming Lane Kiffin continues to forget about O.J. Howard.
Coming from ACC country, I was not indoctrinated with the proper hatred for Auburn in my childhood. They were largely irrelevant on the national stage throughout my childhood, as a quick scan of my brain pre-2010 really only registers the 2004 Cadillac Williams/Ronnie Brown/Jason Campbell team, which (lol) didn’t get a chance to play for a title even though it finished undefeated.
That worm has fully turned. Starting in 2010 with the fully hateable Cam Newton and Nick Fairley squad, I began an irrational loathing towards Auburn that has only escalated rapidly since starting and finishing my time in Athens.
Now, just…ugh. The lucky plays in 2013. The former Dawgs having successful careers there. The admittedly fun to watch offense. Now, Will Muschamp round two.
What Happened Last Year?
After a 5-0 start with impressive wins against Kansas State and LSU, the Tigers completely fell off the map. It was glorious. I realized they still finished with a respectable 8-5 record, but it may be a little bit deceiving.
A loss at Mississippi State was followed by a dangerously-close home win against South Carolina, who had a Hail Mary chance of tying the game as time expired. Speaking of close calls, they won at Ole Miss the next weekend by 4.
Then, finally, the levee broke. Home loss to Texas A&M. Blowout loss at Georgia in the second-most-fun-game-I’ve-seen-in-Sanford. A pedestrian win over Samford. A shootout loss at Alabama. And to top it all off, a nice Outback Bowl loss to an interim-coached Wisconsin team.
I’m selling on Auburn’s high preseason expectations (they got the most votes to win the SEC at Media Days despite not being picked to win the West). Those last eight games I mentioned? 0-8 against the spread. Hopefully, we have more ‘warm beagle’ to come in 2015.
I wanted to pick them lower. But, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on two factors: the possibility that Will Muschamp rights the ship on D (impact likely to be overrated opposite a HUNH offense), and the opinion that Jeremy Johnson adds the vertical passing game element that Nick Marshall largely did not provide.
Three Key Games
The overarching theme in these previews is that all of the SEC games are key. Having said that…
at Arkansas, Oct. 24: There’s a pretty good chance Auburn comes into this one 6-0 (3-0), making a road game against an up-and-comer like the Hawgs (who also do a pretty good job of controlling tempo) Verne and Gary production. It also opens a stretch that finishes with Ole Miss, at Texas A&M, and…
Georgia, Nov. 14: They had their manhood taken by the Dawgs last year. A win would put them 2-0 in the cross-divisional games, giving them hope for the West title if everything shakes out.
Alabama, Nov. 28: You mean to tell me that a battle of 4 of the last 6 national champions is still big news? How about that. The last time this matchup took place in Suburban Opelika was the kick-six game, so…yeah, top that please, Iron Bowl.
Five Players to Watch
DE Carl Lawson: He tore his ACL before the season last year, but was a freshman All-America as an SEC D-lineman. No small task. Muschamp’s hybrid 3-4/4-3 will call for Lawson to be the versatile point man.
FS Tray Matthews: Last time he had live action in Auburn, it didn’t go well (not linking the Prayer GIF again). He joins a secondary of three returning starters, and craptheirdefenseactuallylooksprettygoodonpaper.
QB Jeremy Johnson: The junior has played well in spot duty for two years, completing over 70% of his passes (and never an interception) in both 2013 and 2014. In the driver’s seat now, the only question I have is whether he can replicate Nick Marshall’s success running the ball.
WR Duke Williams: The scariest of the returning receivers, Williams burst onto the scene with 16.2 yards per catch, falling just 11 yards short of leading the Auburn team in receiving. With Sammie Coates and Quan Bray gone, he’s a safe bet for a 1000+ yard season.
LB’s Cassanova McKinzy/Kris Frost: Had to skip back to the D, because they’re going to help Lawson create a pass rush. Both were over 87 tackles and 6.5 for loss, both had interceptions, and both have been starters for two years now. The back seven is looking strong, unfortunately.
The act of blocking transfers, which is done largely for competitive reasons, has become yet another black eye on ‘amateur’ sports. Essentially, when a player becomes disgruntled and feels its in his best interests that he move on, a coach will grant his release with the exception of schools X, Y, and Z, almost always ones on future schedules or in the conference. In certain situations (can’t find a link to a recent story on a basketball player this happened to) coaches go overboard and block as many as 50 schools.
From a competitive standpoint, this makes perfect sense. Every case is probably evaluated individually, and a coach may be more lenient on a guy who he doesn’t feel will make an impact against his school in future matchups.
Mark Richt doesn’t adhere to any of these restrictive policies, and I can’t decide whether its a good thing or not. On one hand, Georgia may be made more attractive to prospects who are on the fence and realize they will have opportunity elsewhere if it doesn’t work out in Athens.
On the other? Well, Georgia could get burned. First off, there have been an awful lot of Dawgs transferring within the SEC, haven’t there? An oft-cited reason for restrictive transfer policies in the first place is coaches’ fear of tampering. Players develop relationships with coaches from other schools during their recruitments, and it would shock nobody to learn that certain Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, et al assistants may ‘check in’ on their happiness from time to time (pure speculation, no facts or unique insight).
Notwithstanding the losses of Nick Marshall (MAJOR impact) and Jonathan Taylor (no impact), the Dawgs have had a higher-than-usual attrition rate to future opponents.
It’s being widely reported that former QB Jacob Park is looking to transfer to Alabama. The Tide have no known quantities at the quarterback position right now, so it is reasonable to posit that he may have the talent to become the guy in Tuscaloosa in the next 2-3 years. Additionally, former UGA RB J.J. Green transferred to Georgia Tech just ten days after the Yellow Jackets’ first win at Georgia in a minor eternity.
The Dawgs will have to deal with Green in 2016 and 2017, no doubt. He qualifies as the most highly-regarded (per 247sports) recruit Tech has brought in to play B-back in Paul Johnson’s system. Just for levity’s sake, were Green transferring within the ACC, he would be required to sit out two years.
So, I’ll leave it to you, the reader: do you think Georgia’s policy on outgoing transfers is too lenient, or are the best interests of the players in question the most important thing? I want hot takes.
When eight games is the sample size used to determine who will represent each division in the SEC Championship game on December 5th, it becomes important to look outside the commonalities in the schedule and see who has the inside track based on different isolated factors.
Today’s factor? Luck of the draw, as the SEC is now in year three of its 6+1+1 model (six versus division opponents, one permanent crossover, one rotating rival among the other six). Whether this is the best way to schedule is a debate for another day, but what is not debatable is that some crossover combinations are stronger than others.
Missouri, for an obvious example, is 4-0 in the regular season the past two years against the West. With those opponents’ combined record at 30-20, the only impressive win was in 2013 at home against Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M squad. For comparison’s sake, Georgia draws Auburn every year, and the past two years have seen an Auburn team lose in the national championship and one rank in the top 10 all season until a November 15 loss to…Georgia.
Any follower of Georgia football knows why this is worthy discussion, and why I bring it up. Georgia draws two top-5 opponents from the SEC West this year. On a more macro scale, it’s interesting to see the traditional flag-bearers for the East’s crossover opponents. Florida with LSU. Tennessee with “Bama. Georgia with Auburn. With LSU, Alabama, and Auburn on varying degrees of historic runs, it’s no wonder the (perceived, therefore actual) strength of the conference lies in the West.
Who’s got the easiest road to hoe outside of the East this year?
1) Missouri: Mississippi State, at Arkansas: WELL LOOKY THERE! For the third straight year, Mizzou dodges Bama/Auburn/LSU, as well as a very scary Ole Miss team. Could Arkansas be dangerous? Totally. But assuming another offseason suddenly makes Brandon Allen a good quarterback is a tough way to sell me on Arkansas as a contender.
Just warning y’all now, Missouri could pretty easily do it again.
2) *disclaimer: none of the rest of these are what one would consider ‘easy’* Kentucky: Auburn, at Mississippi State: I still think Miss. State is the leader to be in the cellar of the SEC West. Kentucky gets them on the road, and has at least a chance against Auburn. Maybe.
3) South Carolina: LSU, at Texas A&M: With Anthony Jennings possibly sidelined, LSU’s lack of QB play makes beating the Tigers at home possible for the ‘Cocks. And yes, I saw what aTm and Kenny Trill (remember him?) did at SC to open the year last year, but they’re at best middle-of-the-pack in the West.
4) Vanderbilt: at Ole Miss, Texas A&M: Notice a trend? The bottom four in the SEC Championship odds have the four easiest crossover schedules. I ALLUDED TO THIS ABOVE TOO!
Oh, and Vandy won’t win either of these games.
5) Tennessee: Arkansas, at Alabama: You figure they’ve at least got a shot against Arky at home. The third Saturday in October will be a ‘Roll Tide’ weekend for Georgia fans, as Tennessee is the second-most talented team in the East. Still think Missouri is the biggest challenger, though.
6) Florida: Ole Miss, at LSU: Not to spoil anything for our upcoming previews, but I think Ole Miss is a serious contender not only for the West, but for a playoff berth. And Death Valley is Death Valley.
7) Georgia: Alabama, at Auburn: Obviously, the impetus for this post. If you told me Georgia was going to split at worst, I’d buy a ticket to the SEC Championship game today. But…many publications are picking BOTH of these teams for the CFP. That’s rough sailing for a team breaking in a new QB.