Kentucky tries to replicate last season’s success in 2019.

Published 12:20 pm Friday, July 26, 2019

After an incredible 2018 season in which the Kentucky Wildcats finished with a 10-3 record and a second place finish in the SEC East, including a Citrus Bowl victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions, many people are left wondering what’s next for Kentucky Football. After losing key role players such as Benny Snell, Josh Allen and Mike Edwards, the Wildcats are hoping some new names emerge as pivotal playmakers this season in hopes of replicating the best season for Kentucky since 1977.

John Dunn: It’s going to be very hard for Kentucky to replicate the type of success they had last year, in my opinion. It’s hard to gauge where the SEC East is as a whole right now. With Missouri taking on Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant, the Gamecocks being led by a veteran Jake Bentley and a multitude of other factors, the SEC East seems eerily enigmatic this season.

Much like last season, there is sense of equality throughout the SEC, in both divisions. The equal nature of the division seemed to play to Kentucky’s benefit last season. After making a statement by defeating the Florida Gators in week three last year, Kentucky burned through two more SEC opponents before falling to a better-than-advertised Texas A&M squad in overtime for their first loss of the season.

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The Wildcats’ 2019 schedule seems to mirror their 2018 schedule. Kentucky will walk through Toledo and Eastern Michigan before opening conference play against the Gators. I personally have Florida poised for a breakout season in 2019, that may include a trip to the College Football Playoff, depending on how things shake out in other conferences. I see the Florida game being the first loss for Kentucky this season.

The following week, the Wildcats take on Mississippi State, who they beat last year. The Bulldogs lost a lot of offensive and defensive productivity last season. I believe Kentucky will be too much for State to handle and the Wildcats notch their first conference victory of the season in week four.

Kentucky dismantled South Carolina last season, holding them to only 10 points. Things have changed in Columbia and Jake Bentley is no longer the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young man that he once was. He is now a veteran SEC quarterback with a lot of experience and some talent at receiver. This is going to be a toss-up game between Kentucky and South Carolina. The key to victory will be defense. Whichever team plays the best defense, will win by at least a touchdown. This could be Kentucky’s second conference victory of the season.

The Arkansas Razorbacks are in rebuilding mode and will be for the next few years, which should allow the Wildcats’ a victory, potentially their third in conference play. At this point in the season, I have Kentucky sitting at 5-1 or 4-2 ahead of SEC East favorite, Georgia.

The Wildcats gave Georgia a better game than most last season. However, the Bulldogs are just too loaded at seemingly every position for Kentucky to be able to win this game. Georgia is led by a veteran Jake Fromm who has multitudes of valuable experience in SEC play. I just don’t think that Kentucky has the firepower to be able to take down the top “Dawgs” in the East.

Last year, the Missouri/Kentucky game went down to the wire, with the Wildcats winning in exciting fashion, 15-14. The fact that the Cats limited the Tigers to only 14 points during the game was a testament to how well they played defense last season. A lot has changed for both teams. Kentucky lost the likes of Josh Allen and Mike Edwards, while Missouri took on Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant and retained a lot of talent at receiver. Having not seen the “new” Missouri team, it’s hard to make an accurate assessment of the game. However, I feel that this is another toss-up game for Kentucky.

Arguably the darkest spot of the season last year for the Cats was the game against Tennessee is Neyland Stadium. Riding a wave of momentum, Kentucky certainly felt like 2018 was the right time to take out the Vols on their home turf for the first time since 1984, however, the Cats’ offense was limited throughout the game and Tennessee was able to take care of business, upsetting Kentucky. There is a lot of growth happening in both Knoxville and Lexington. Tennessee and Kentucky seem to be hovering around the same win/loss total this season. This is another toss-up game for both teams this season. With the game being in Lexington, the Wildcats may be able to use home field advantage to their favor.

Vanderbilt and TN-Martin should be easy wins for the Wildcats this season. Vanderbilt may still have KeShawn Vaughn, but lost a lot of leadership in quarterback Kyle Shurmur. TN-Martin doesn’t have the talent to compete with the Kentucky, and should be an easy victory prior to the match-up with in-state rival, Louisville.

It was no contest last season as the Wildcats dominated the Cardinals 56-10. With so much going on in Louisville, both on and off the field, it should be another win for Kentucky in the Battle of the Bluegrass State. With a favorable schedule, a good coach and talent sprinkled throughout the roster, the Wildcats have the potential to find themselves in a big-time bowl game this season.

I’m going to give the Wildcats eight wins this season, with losses to Florida, South Carolina, Missouri and Tennessee. If Kentucky is able to defeat two of those four teams, they will be on pace for the best season in program history. The SEC is enigmatic this season and the sky is the limit for the Wildcats.

Anthony Cloud: When you first look take a glimpse at Kentucky, you wouldn’t think they would be able to replicate the same amount of success as they did a year ago. The team went 10-3 to record one of the greatest Kentucky football seasons of all time. The thing is, I believe Kentucky can come close to doing it again this season.

While the team lost stars like Benny Snell, Josh Allen, Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Mike Edwards, the team will be able to replace some of those players by committee. One glimpse in the backfield and you can see three running backs that, combined, can replicate the type of success Benny Snell had.

A.J. Rose was able to tally 472 yards and five touchdowns on the ground a year ago while only touching the ball 71 times. Smoke and Rodriguez had impressive showings in the Blue and White game with Smoke running for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Rodriguez finished with 55 yards and one touchdown.

The Cats also have Terry Wilson returning behind center. With Snell gone, Kentucky will have to rely on Wilson’s passing ability to help pull off some victories.

But, enough about personnel. Let’s get to the games. Kentucky will come out of the gate 2-0 with victories over Toledo and Eastern Michigan. I would argue to say both of these games should be wins by three touchdowns or more.

The game everyone has marked on their schedule will take place on Sept. 14 — when Florida comes to Kroger Field looking for revenge on the Cats. While Kentucky defeated the Gators last year, Florida was an entirely different team by the end of the season. After suffering the upset, the Gators went on to win five in a row before back-to-back losses to Georgia and Missouri.

Dan Mullins has Florida knocking on the door of an SEC title, and I think he and Feleipe Franks gets their revenge on Kentucky this season.

The Wildcats walked right by Mississippi State with a 28-7 victory a year ago. I would argue that both teams lost about the same amount of key players. The Bulldogs still have Kylin Hill Jr., a 5-11, 225-pounder who doesn’t mind running downhill, but that won’t help with their lack of offensive player makers through the air. Kentucky takes this one.

I would say that South Carolina has Sept. 28 circled on their calendar. The last time the Gamecocks walked away victorious after a game against Kentucky was in 2013. Since then, the Wildcats have owned South Carolina. Last year, Kentucky walked away with a 24-10 victory.

This game will be close. South Carolina is returning seven starters on offense with Jake Bentley being the leader. No longer a rookie to the college game, Bentley may have a standout year with Bryan Edwards (846 yards, seven touchdowns, 55 receptions) being the primary target. The Gamecocks should return a solid group on defense as well. Plus, there is a good chance if South Carolina losses this game he will be out of a job at the end of the season.

With all that said, Kentucky adds another “W” in the win column when the final horn blows.

An easy win at Arkansas will take a 5-1 Kentucky squad into a game played “Between the Hedges” at Georgia. Most people are split on who will win the SEC East, but in my opinion it’s Georgia. Jake Fromm is a terrific quarterback, so much so that former No. 2 ranked prospect Justin Fields decided to transfer to Ohio State. Add in D’Andre Swift at running back and a loaded offensive line, and I believe the Bulldogs easily take this game to hand Kentucky their second loss of the season.

A Oct. 26 meeting against Missouri will be a game that decides just how well Kentucky will finish the season. Despite a closely contested loss last season, the Tigers will bring a welcomed surprise at quarterback in Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant. Two years removed from a season where he threw for 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns and ran for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns, Kelly will look to turn the Missouri offense around.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, I don’t see that happening with the Cats winning another closely contested game to improve to 6-2 on the year.

Kentucky will likely enter their match-up against Tennessee with revenge on their mind. Despite having one of the best seasons in program history, including four draft picks, the Cats couldn’t get it done against the Vols a year ago. The two teams are on par with each other on paper. With the defense poised to be much improved from a year ago and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano having another year under his belt, Tennessee will grab the victory on the road to drop the Cats to 6-3.

Games against Vanderbilt and UT-Martin should prove to be games where Kentucky can find their stride again, improving to 8-3 with a couple of easy wins.

Then comes the regular-season finale against arch nemesis Louisville. The Cats destroyed Louisville with ease last year. With the Cardinals grabbing a new coach and the team having a less than impressive roster, Kentucky should roll past the Louisville to claim a 9-3 record.