Congratulations, BBN. We have made it through SEC Media Days which means it is officially talking season amongst SEC fans. It has been 603 days since Kroger Field last hosted your Kentucky Wildcats without COVID-19 restrictions, and on September 4th when Kentucky hosts Louisiana-Monroe, witnessing a sea of blue take over Lexington will be bittersweet.
(Photo from UK Athletics website)
What's at Stake for Kentucky
Kentucky made strides this offseason at improving their offense, which has been the majority of concern years previously. A day after UK's last regular season game of 2020, the decision was made public; Mark Stoops and company are moving forward and replacing offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. "As we got through the season you certainly look at all the things you're doing good and you wanna continue to build on that", Mark Stoops states during SEC Media Days when asked if there was a specific moment Stoops realized change was necessary.
"Improve in the areas you need to improve and the areas you're falling short, and you have to address them. So, yes, I cannot tell you an exact time or date, but there was certainly a time throughout the year where I knew we needed to make improvement in that area." It was later announced that former LA Rams quarterbacks coach Liam Coen was being hired as a replacement. "I really like the changes that I made in the coaching staff. I needed to." Stoops added, "Offensive coordinator Liam Coen coming in from the Rams and hopefully continuing to push us forward and to give us the balance that I'm searching for."
Another key in making this season stand out is quarterback play. It's no secret that Kentucky had struggled in previous years with Terry Wilson. Will Levis is a heralded transfer out of Penn State that is looking to battle former Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood and Lexington native Beau Allen. Many inside the program believe Will Levis is the man for the job, although Levis was not in time for Spring Practice. Without further ado, lets preview the opponents for your 2021 Kentucky Wildcats:
(By Chris Vannini Dec. 7 2020)
In a year in which college football produced the most unpredictable results in history, ULM had quite possibly their worst season of all-time. The Warhawks went winless out of 10 games, and fired former head coach Matt Viator. An argument could be made that ULM was the worst team to touch a college football field last year. New head coach Terry Bowden has other plans regarding their future. While many pieces of the puzzle are coming out of the transfer portal, the quarterback position is very competitive. ULM has three quarterbacks competing for the starting gig, one being Rhett Rodriguez out of Arizona. Rhett (offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez' son) is believed to be the favorite. Kentucky is currently a -30.5 favorite.
(Photo by Adam Spencer/Saturday Down South)
In what will most likely be Kroger Field's first sellout in over two years, Missouri and Kentucky both look to be dark horses for the SEC East. Missouri went 5-5 last year, including a 20-10 win over Kentucky. Going into the 2021 season, Missouri is looking to replace their starting running back, Larry Rountree III who left to the NFL. It's all but official that Tigers head coach Eli Drinkwitz is starting sophomore Connor Bazelak at the quarterback position. Last year, Bazelak completed over 67% of his passes and threw for 235 yards a game. With the return of Bazelak and the development of the wide receivers group, Missouri's offense could be a force to be reckoned with, or it could be a team with a lot of young mistakes. The battle under the lights of a rocking Kroger Field is something you will NOT want to miss.
(Photo by Chattanooga Mocs official website)
Chattanooga heads into Lexington on September 18th to face the Cats. The Mocs are led by third year head coach Rusty Wright. They played a total of 5 games last season and their overall record was 2-3. The Mocs' defensive line is led by two-time first team FCS All-American Devonnsha Maxwell. Maxwell had 5.0 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss in UTC's shortened 5 game 2020 season. The Athlon Sports ranked the Mocs 20th in their FCS Top 25 preseason poll. Kentucky will be the heavy favorite, before heading to Columbia to face the Gamecocks.
South Carolina Gamecocks
(Photo via GamecocksOnline.com)
Kentucky's last trip to South Carolina didn't end so well for the Blue and White. The Wildcats were still searching for their identity as a team, and it was evident that the team was not on the same page when it came to quarterback play. If you've ever been to Williams-Brice Stadium, you know exactly what an SEC stadium is supposed to sound like. Come September 25th, expect the first Kentucky away game to be rocking.
There is a lot of buzz around the USC program. The Gamecocks fired former head coach Will Muschamp mid-season in 2020 and announced offensive coordinator Mike Bobo as interim head coach to finish out the 2020 season. Soon after the season ended, USC hired Oklahoma assistant head coach and son of former Virginia Tech head coach Frank, Shane Beamer. Shane made a point at SEC Media Days that both sides of the Gamecock line of scrimmage are 'deep and talented.'
"In this league, you better be ready to stop the run, and it starts up front." Beamer stated. "We've added some talented freshmen to that group, we've added some talented transfers to that group and looking forward to watching those guys start."
South Carolina lost a lot last year. The program was trending downward, and had major issues keeping players on the field. One player Coach Beamer is excited about is star running back Kevin Harris.
"Kevin is very tough, very physical. It's very hard for one person to bring him down" according to Beamer.
"He's a downhill runner that's really worked to improve his game, not just carrying the football; running routes, pass protection, all that stuff."
There is no doubt that South Carolina fans are excited about this hire, lets see if the success resonates on the field.
(AP photo/John Raoux)
The Florida Gators will look to keep their SEC East hopes alive when Dan Mullen and company come to Lexington on the first Saturday of October. Dating back to 2014, Kentucky has had the Gators number. In 2018, the Cats went to Gainesville and didn't back down. Kentucky knocked off Florida for the first time since 1986 and went on to a 10 win season, defeating Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. In 2021, fans are hopeful that Kentucky can have yet another successful year. If Kentucky goes into this game 4-0, good luck finding tickets because this crowd will compete the 2007 LSU game in terms of excitement. College football fans across the country will have their eyes on this game, and could potentially be the hardest ticket to find that given weekend.
Florida lost three of their offensive stars last season. Tight end Kyle Pitts went fourth overall to the Atlanta Falcons, wide receiver Kadarius Toney went 20th overall to the New York Giants, and starting quarterback Kyle Trask went 64th overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Emory Jones looks to be the Gators' starting QB heading into the 2021 season. Over the past three years, Jones has completed 55 out of 86 throws (64.0 CMP%), thrown for 613 yards and thrown for 7 touchdowns. Florida's biggest question marks are how they're going to replace so much talent on both ends of the ball. Put your seatbelts on, folks. This ones gonna get rowdy.
(Chris Parent/LSU Athletics)
Coach O is coming to town on October 9th. Kentucky has not hosted LSU since the 2007 game in which Andre Woodson went 21-38 and threw for 3 touchdowns, to stun the #1 team in the country in 3 overtimes and give Kentucky fans a game to remember for the rest of their lives.
LSU is going to be a deep, experienced team on both sides of the ball, especially at the offensive line. The game is a battle in the trenches and will especially be the case for this game. LSU is the host of two quarterbacks that Coach Orgeron stated are battling for the starting role. Myles Brennan started for three games last season, before being sidelined because of an injury to his abdomen. Max Johnson threw for 88 of 150, 1,069 yards in the 5 games where he attempted a pass last season. This is not your ordinary cliché QB competition, because both quarterbacks have a real chance at playing on Sunday's.
(Photo by Paul Abell/Abell Images)
This is THE game when it comes to Kentucky winning the East and asserting their dominance as an SEC powerhouse. Kentucky will have to travel to Athens and win in Sanford Stadium to get rid of that last remaining burden upon Stoops and the foundation he has built at the University of Kentucky.
Georgia is going to be tough on the offensive side this year. UGA will have a great quarterback, the running back room is filled with talent, and the offensive line will be outstanding. The question going into the 2021 season is how good the defense will be. Georgia is revamping their defense, and instead of playing their well-known STAR defense, they will be going back to the 3-4. The defense is resembling a bend but don't break mentality and it will be interesting to see how they do with stopping the run, especially with what will be a more balanced passing attack from Kentucky.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
(Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Kentucky will be traveling to Mississippi State in week 9 of the college football season, after coming off a BYE week. The Bulldogs have a young team and a brand new staff. In his first season at MSU, Mike Leach went 4-7 and lost to Kentucky, 24-2 in Lexington. Leach attributed that loss to Kentucky's defensive line and Mississippi State's inability to catch the football. MSU's 3-3-5 defense makes is especially tough to run the ball the way Kentucky ran it with former offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.
Mississippi State looks to move forward with the air raid offense, as expected. Coach Mike Leach was impressed with true freshman quarterback Will Rogers last season, however he did not specify who would be the quarterback this fall. If Kentucky wants to do something special this year, this game against a young team cannot be one they drop.
(David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire)
The Vols are set to travel to Lexington on October 30th, as Kentucky welcomes Josh Heupel to Kroger Field as he coaches the Vols for what will be his first UT vs UK rivalry game. Tennessee was in an absolute disaster situation last season, so disastrous that the university turned themselves in to the NCAA in hopes of firing Jeremy Pruitt without having to pay his buyout.
Huepel stated during SEC Media Days that his offense is going to be 'quarterback friendly' and an offense that will add pressure to defenses every single Saturday. Tennessee lost a lot of players to the transfer portal on both sides of the ball before Huepel got to Rocky Top. Coach Huepel also added 8 players from the portal after he arrived on campus. Kentucky fans know of Tennessee dual threat quarterback Hendon Hooker, who transferred from Virginia Tech and faced Kentucky in the 2019 Belk Bowl. Tennessee will be utilizing Hooker and will likely keep their offense fast-paced.
(Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Kentucky is expected to travel to Nashville on November 13th to take on the Commodores and first year head coach Clark Lea. Vanderbilt went 0-9 last year which included a 38-35 loss to Kentucky. After Vanderbilt decided to part ways with Derek Mason, former Commodore player Clark Lea was named the programs head coach. Coach Lea was the defensive coordinator for Notre Dame from 2018-2020. During that time, Notre Dame had one of the best defenses in the Brian Kelly era. This is expected to be a multi-year rebuild in a conference that is not easy to do so.
New Mexico State
(Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today)
New Mexico State comes into town on November 20th, as 9th year head coach Doug Martin looks to pull off a career defining win. Many preseason rankings have the Aggies ranked worst in college football, and ceiling predictions have them going 2-10.
The Aggies are returning only two offensive starters from last season. Four-year offensive lineman Sage Doxtater is a 4 year starter for the program, and although the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (CFL) drafted him in May, is exercising his fifth year option for one more season. The other returning offensive starter is wide receiver Robert Downs III. In 2018, Downs reeled in 22 catches for 415 yards and snagged four touchdowns. Expect a cold, stress-free day to enjoy football time in the Bluegrass on senior day.
(Photo by Eric Crawford)
In the last game of the year, Kentucky will look to end their season with a win over their in-state rival, the Louisville Cardinals. Last season, the Cardinals went 4-7 in their regular season and according to head coach Scott Satterfield, were not 'in line' for a bowl game. Kentucky prevailed the previous two times the Cats and Cards have met on the field, and are currently in possession of the Governors Cup.
As far as this season, Louisville appears to be sticking with Malik Cunningham at quarterback. Louisville is planning on keeping the same offensive strategy, although new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr and new running back coach De'Rail Sims have been added to the staff. Louisville lost two beloved Cards receivers to the Draft; Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick. Scott Satterfield will look for other options to help Malik Cunningham and running back Marshon Ford.