The 2003 edition of the UK Wildcats are going to win. They have to win. No really, they do. Because of past transgressions-once again thank you Hal Mumme-the UK Football team will spend the next couple of years fighting out from under the weight of NCAA sanctions, the most hurtful of which is scholarship limitations. If UK wants to potentially win 7 or more football games, then 2003 is the year. Where will these 7 or more wins come from. Well, good question.
Last year's predictions divided the UK football schedule into four groups: No chance, small chance, 50/50, and the games they should win. This year is no different.
No chance-The teams that UK has no chance of beating are Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia. The Cats have come close and the UT and UF games are in Lexington this year, but it eludes me as to how the Cats can win any of these three games. UT had a down year last year and they still demolished UK, a game that was, for all intents and purposes, over before it began due to rule violation suspensions. The Bulldogs of Georgia are poised to become the Big Dogs of the SEC East. They lost a lot of talent from last year, but they do return All-SEC quarterback David Green and his split-time partner D.J. Shockley. With the departure of Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt is probably the best offensive mind in the SEC and expect Georgia to be just as strong as they were last year when they walked into town and laid the smackdown on the Cats. The Gators, however, present an interesting situation. The dominance of Florida has, for the lack of a better word, been "Zooked." Head Coach Ron Zook is still proving himself to most of the nation and he is going to begin the year with an inexperienced quarterback, possibly true freshman Chris Leak. Zook is known for his recruiting and not for his game-planning abilities. This game could be an "upset special," a season-making victory over a team that perennially dominates the Cats. But remember they still have better athletes and more overall talent. Zook is no mastermind, but new Defensive Coordinator Charlie Strong is one smart cookie. Strong, who left South Carolina for the more high profile job in Gainesville, should be a head coach by now, but that is another story. He has a history of putting together strong defenses and this year's UF edition should be no different.
Small chance-Alabama is on their third coach in less than a year, but they still have the talent of a top 25 team. What they do not have is the depth. Provided they stay healthy, and new coach Mike Shula stays out of strip clubs, they should have a decent year. If this was a home game the Cats would have a much better chance. Because it is in Tuscaloosa, give this one to 'Bama. Of course, Shula has no head coaching experience, so if he turns out to exhibit Zook-like tendencies in the first couple of weeks, the odds swing UK's direction.
50/50 games-South Carolina and Arkansas. While none of these teams are particularly strong, they are both good programs. USC will continue to be dangerous as long as Lou Holtz is pacing the sideline. But their talent level is not where it was a couple of years ago and the aforementioned Charlie Strong has left for greener pastures. The Gamecocks won at Commonwealth last year in a game many thought UK simply gave away. South Carolina might be tough, but UK's chances look good. Arkansas, well, somehow every year they end up with a winning record and a chance at the SEC West title. Their play has never seemed overly impressive, and UK has beaten them fairly regularly despite their overall success. Yet, it is not a "should win," but one more victory might push it into that category.
Should win-This category may need to be changed to "need to win." If UK wants to go bowling, which of course they do, they have to win at least four of these games: Louisville, Murray State, Indiana, Ohio, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt. The Cardinals present the first test Sunday night and since there are new coaches on both sidelines, no one is quite sure what to expect. The most surprising development could be that the stud freshman from Louisville who will be starting this game is UK's Keenan Burton and not UL's Michael Bush. Although, expect Bush to be starting by the end of the year. Burton is proving his MVP at the Kentucky/Tennessee All-Star game was no fluke. The IU game is always tougher than it should be, and the last time UK traveled to Bloomington they laid a big, fat egg. Vandy sucks. Really, there is nothing redeeming about the pompous Ivy league wannabes. Plus, a Vandy website picked UK to go 2-10 and 0-8 in the SEC. MSU just hired former UL coach Ron Cooper to coach their defense. Hiring Cooper and expecting him to turn around your team's defense is like hiring Bill Curry and expecting him to spice up your team's offense. Murray State and Ohio? Who knows about these schools, except for the fact that Ohio University throws one wicked Halloween party.
So, how will the Cats do? 0-4 in the no chance and small chance category. 2-0 in the 50/50, with the South Carolina game tougher than you might think. 5-1 in the need to win, hopefully started off by a blowout victory over UL. When the one loss in this bunch will happen is uncertain, but hopefully it will not be as heartbreaking as the LSU game.
Several things will be true for UK football this season. The Cats can go 7-5, although after a few beers that might change to 8-4. Jared Lorenzen will have a great senior season and keep the weight off. Shane Boyd will be more valuable than you might think. Keenan Burton is going to have a long and productive UK career. The defense will once again play strong, with Ellery Moore hoping for a Dewayne Robertson-esque jump in the NFL draft pecking order. Rich Brooks is the right man for the job and his assistants are among the best ever here at UK. I believe in the 2003 UK football team. Do you?
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