We continue our season preview/predictions with a look at what should be a critical three game homestand in October. Three games against beatable but capable SEC East teams. Three games that can make or break a season.
Last year it was back to back road weeks at USC and Auburn. With the way the schedule shaped up, my preseason hopes were pinned on getting a rip in those two games and starting the season 3-3. Of course, the rest was history. After a narrow, no Wildcat on the 2 point conversion, miss at Spurrier Tech, the Cats got touchdown runs from three different Quarterbacks and stole one at Auburn. We used that momentum to turn in a pretty good regular season for a team that had modest expectations.
This year, the Cats have three straight winnable but challenging tilts in games 6, 7 and 8. Dead in the heart of the season. Getting one win would be satisfying, two huge. Three and the season could be a magical one. The Cats beat two of these opponents, Georgia and Auburn, on their own turf last year. The third, USCJr., has had our goat of late, but always shows up with comparable talent. Anything is possible in this stretch. As true as that statement is, so it this one: If these games were played tomorrow, UK would not be favored in any one.
How might it shake out?
On October 9, The Fighting Chizeks come to town. Auburn could be flying high at this point of the season, 4-1 or 5-0 (the Cats should be no worse than 3-2). Auburn has to replace QB Chris Todd and 1,300 yard rusher Ben Tate, but should be in good hands with JC transfer Cam Newton and several talented backs. The whole O-Line and both starting wide receivers return. The Tigers' defense was not good last year, but with seven returning starters and Chizek's focus on that side of the ball, it should be much improved. I think UK has much more than a puncher's chance in this game. If our anointed quarterback has found a groove by then, we should score some points. Still, Auburn should be improved this year and frankly, I cannot see beating them back to back years. Aub 28-21.
October 16th bring the Gamecocks and a game that could be a battle for the upper eschelon of the SEC East. I'm still having Alshon Jeffrey flashbacks from last year's game. Our secondary was depleted, and the freshman wideout caught everything in site. I wonder if he is going to be the next in the Munnerlyn, Norwood line of Cats killers. In any event, I cannot predict a win against these guys again until one comes. I just can't. USC 21-13.
The homestand closes with the Georgia Bulldogs on October 23rd. The complexion of that game will be shaped somewhat by what happens up until that point. Georgia will be thin at the quarterback position and thick just about everywhere else on offense. Washaun Ealey, who was not technically a starter last year, will be one of the SEC's best backs. A.J. Green is one of the SEC's best receivers. The entire offensive line returns. As set as UGa appears on O, it is a mess defensively. Mark Richt blew out his whole defensive staff and will change schemes to a 3-4. Few starters return. Even though last year's defense was not good, it had several talented players who won't be back, most notably LB Rennie Curren. I like Kentucky in this game, especially if it is riding some momentum. The Dogs couldn't hold last year's team under 30 at home. Can they really do it now? UK 34-31.
Keep in mind these are some tough predictions. I would not be surprised if UK won or lost any one of these games. The season will be made or broken here.