Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. We continue previewing Georgia’s 2017 opponents on Monday with a look at the Kentucky Wildcats, a dark horse contender in the SEC East.
Kentucky is a dark horse in the SEC East
The SEC East is a mess and one of the weakest divisions in college football. That hasn’t made for great football, but it has created some incredible parity. While Alabama has been monolithic as the dominant power in the West for the last decade — with a spritzing of LSU and Auburn — the East is annually up for grabs. Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and even Missouri, have all gone to Atlanta out of the East in the last decade. Georgia, Florida and Tennessee hold the mantle of favorites in the East this season, but the margins are so, so thin. Thin enough that the dark horse has almost as good of a chance to win the East as any favorite.
This season, for my money, that dark horse is Kentucky.
In 2016, the Wildcats went 7-6, their first winning season in four years under Mark Stoops. It was a solid step forward from the two years before, when the Wildcats went 5-7. And it was made all the better by a 41-38 upset of the Louisville Cardinals and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Now, they need to take the next step and sustain that winning record for a second straight season, perhaps even reaching eight wins, which would certainly put them in the SEC East title picture if the division stays true to form.
There still are a lot of questions on this squad, but the Wildcats bring back one of the best backfields in the East, as well as an experienced defense that grew and improved over the course of 2016. If some of those questions get answered, there’s no reason the Wildcats can’t be a viable contender in the East.
The aforementioned backfield is composed of QB Stephen Johnson and RB Benny Snell. Johnson stepped in for an injured Drew Barker last season and finished with 2,037 passing yards, 13 TDs and 6 INTs, and he figures to improve with an offseason of preparation as the No. 1 man on the depth chart. Snell, meanwhile, managed to amass 1,091 yards and 13 TDs last season as a freshman while splitting carries with Stanley “Boom” Williams. With Williams now out of the picture, Snell will be the one to carry the load.
In all, Kentucky brings back eight starters, including four on the offensive line. Johnson will need to find a new top target after the departure of WR Jeff Badet, but receiver Garrett Johnson and tight end C.J. Conrad could help pick up the slack. With the path the experienced line can pave for Snell and the protection it can give Johnson, if the Wildcats can find a go-to target at WR, the offense could take a huge leap forward this season, perhaps enough to be at or near the top of the East.
Although the defense took a step back last season from what it was in 2015, it still was solid at times. But this season should see no such step back, as the defense returns nine starters, including the top 4 tackles from last season.
The strength of the defense comes from the linebackers. LBs Jordan Jones, Josh Allen and Courtney Love — no, not that Courtney Love — will be among the top disruptors on the team, while hybrid Denzil Ware will be charged with wreaking havoc in the backfield. The secondary also brings back three of four starters, but they’ll need to create more turnovers to be truly effective.
But where the defense must really improve is in stopping the run. The Wildcats ranked 110th in the country in run defense last season. An inability to improve in that category this season could be the biggest detriment in its attempts to upset the apple cart in an SEC full of fantastic rushers.
What to expect vs. Georgia
Kentucky’s offense should challenge Georgia’s defense as much as any other team in the East. Snell can go the distance at the drop of a dime and Johnson’s ability to make plays with his feet should prove a challenge. On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs will need to rely heavily on Nick Chubb and Sony Michel against that run defense that, even if it improves, will likely be among the weakest Georgia faces.
FPI Projection — Georgia has a 79 percent chance to beat Auburn.
Robert Loeb and Jan Zielinski advance to NCAA doubles title match
Georgia tennis has one final shot to win a national title this season. The top-seeded doubles pairing of Robert Loeb and Jan Zielinski defeated a pair of TCU Horned Frogs to advance to the national title match in the NCAA men’s doubles tournament.
— Georgia Tennis (@UGAtennis) May 28, 2017
The duo will face Andrew Harris and Spencer Papa of Oklahoma for the title at 1 p.m. ET Monday from Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Dawgs on Tour — Kevin Kisner wins again
Kevin Kisner is quickly becoming the top Dawg on tour. The former Georgia golfer won his second PGA Tour event of the year over the weeend at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas. Kisner shot a 66 on Sunday to complete the tournament at 10-under par and finish a stroke ahead of Sean O’Hair, Jon Rahm, and Jordan Spieth.
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) May 28, 2017
Congratulations to @K_Kisner!
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 28, 2017
- UGA and the facilities arms race, and a master plan (Seth Emerson, DawgNation)
- How UGA fundraised for two major football facility projects (Seth Emerson, DawgNation)
- UGA post-spring depth chart analysis: The dance that is Jacob Eason vs. Jake Fromm (Seth Emerson, DawgNation)
- UGA football: List of most-entertaining games of 2017 starts with Notre Dame (Bill King, DawgNation)
- Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill: UGA game will ‘carry that extra punch’ (Chip Towers, DawgNation)
- UGA recruiting: Bulldogs belong in Caleb Tannor’s All-SEC top 5 (Jeff Sentell, DawgNation)
- After West Coast swing, UGA QB Jacob Eason ‘ready to get back to work’ (Marc Weiszer, Athens Banner-Herald)
- Georgia post-spring analysis: Competition exists at kicker, punter (Jason Butt, The Telegraph)
- In the ‘program pecking order,’ where do Georgia and Georgia Tech rank? (Daniel Shirley, The Telegraph)
- 2017 Player projections: Reggie Carter (Anthony Dasher, UGA Sports)
- Summer Stretch: UGA TEs bound for breakout season (Jake Rowe, Dawgs247)
Sheep 1, Dog 0
— abhimanyu (@abhimanu66) May 28, 2017