This Kentucky squad fits the description of a sleeper better than any other team I’ve discussed thus far. Second-year head coach Joker Phillips has room to improve after his Wildcats posted a so-so season in 2010, which was capped off with a trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl. It’s not always easy to take a team to a bowl game after your first season at the helm, but that’s exactly what Phillips did. Now the task becomes trying to transform his mediocre Wildcats squad into a legit SEC contender. I believe Kentucky fans; more so than anything else, just want their team to have some relevancy in the SEC. The last time Kentucky was relevant in the conference was back 2007 when the Wildcats were ranked as high as #8 nationally. They even knocked off a number 1 ranked LSU program in a triple overtime thriller that year! Sadly, the Wildcats haven’t been ranked in the top 25 in over the last 38 games. Their last victory over a ranked opponent was in fact against that same LSU squad on October 13, 2007.
However, what the 6-7 record doesn’t reveal is that Kentucky was within a touchdown of the win against national champion, Auburn. The Wildcats also played tight games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. This team could have very well been on the verge of a 10-win season in 2010. Talent isn’t the issue because these guys can compete against some of the top dogs in the conference. However, UK’s inability to finish games has been what’s hindered this team in the past. Kentucky ranked 27th in total offense last season, but will have to rely on new playmakers at the Quarterback and the Running back positions. Whoever fills those voids will definitely benefit from a veteran offensive line blocking in front of them. 7 starters return on defense, all looking to improve as a unit, which ranked 45th a year ago. On paper, I think the Wildcats will win all its nonconference games. Kentucky should also be able to handle Ole Miss and Miss State, after dropping both of those games last season. UK will beat Vandy too, but the real test will come on the road against LSU, South Carolina, and Georgia.