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COXTALKS EPISODE 2 IS LIVE!

Back by popular demand…Episode 2 of the CoxTalks Podcast. Enjoy.

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CoxTalks Podcast Debut

It’s raw. It’s unedited. It was recorded exclusively on my cell phone. It’s something I’ve been talking about doing for a long time. Hope you enjoy. Go Cats.

Thanks to all my guests. Please go follow them on Twitter. Any feedback is much appreciated.

Kentucky Wildcats vs Southern Miss preview with Jason Munz

Originally written for A Sea of Blue:

Jason Munz (@munzly) is the Golden Eagles beat writer for the Hattiesburg American, a local newspaper covering football for the University of Southern Mississippi. I had an opportunity to chat with Jason about the season opener at Kentucky, which is transcribed as a Q&A format below.

I recorded the full interview and posted it to Soundcloud, which you also will find below. Bonus material in the audio includes conversation about Brett Favre, the second greatest Southern Miss athlete of all time (according to Munz); the new locker room facilities at Southern Miss; and the Netflix original series, Last Chance U, as a pair of transfer wide receivers from East Mississippi Community College will make their debut starts for the Golden Eagles Saturday against Kentucky.

Looking at the season opener, what’s been the overall buzz from the local fan base around this new coaching staff?

I think people are excited. It’s Jay Hopson’s first year as head coach at Southern Miss, but he was here as an assistant coach on two different occasions for a total of six years, most recently as a defensive coordinator for three seasons before he moved on to a couple other places. So he’s a homegrown guy with a lot of connections to this area and this fan base. I think a lot of people are very excited about him and the staff he’s put together.

Do you expect there will be any kinks to work out with the new coaches or any sort of learning curve for the Golden Eagles to overcome in order to beat Kentucky?

I’m sure there will be; you’re talking about a group of guys in the staff that have never actually worked together as sort of one big conglomerate, so I’m sure there will be a few growing pains. But the fact that Southern Miss has so many returning veterans and experience on the field, I expect that to ease those pains a little bit.

Obviously, you’ve got Nick Mullens the big-name quarterback, Ito Smith at running back, and then D.J. Thompson at receiver…those are definitely the guys Kentucky fans have been hearing the most about…But give me one or two newcomers or underclassmen on offense that you expect to make a name for themselves, either over the course of the season, or maybe even in the opening game against the ‘Cats.

Those are definitely the usual suspects on offense. Then when you look at the offensive line you can certainly point out senior Cameron Tom, a center who’s been on the watch list for the Remington Award for the past two seasons, an all-conference performer the last three seasons, so he’s a guy that they really need to help the offense perform well as a whole.

Besides him, you’re looking at potentially George Pain, who’s Ito Smith’s backup. He missed last season with an injury, but before that, he was a second or third string running back that scored four or five touchdowns as a true sophomore, so they’re expecting big things out of him.

There are several newcomers at the wide receiver spot; especially Isaiah Jones and Allenzae Staggers. Jones was actually a Florida State signee at one time, so I think he played in a few games a couple of years back for the Seminoles. But then he decided to go the Junior College route and ended up at Southern Miss.

Both receivers (Jones and Staggers) transferred from East Mississippi Community College, with the show, Last Chance U?

Yes.

Have you gotten to see any of that?

I have; it was really good. The level of access that crew got was pretty incredible. It was raw, it was gritty, and it didn’t necessarily do much to help the stereotype that people have about college football players, but it was neat to see for people like us.

Do you think you could play for Coach Buddy Stephens? Or even just work for him?

Yeah, I’ve haven’t really crossed paths with him in depth, just in passing a time or two, but he certainly ate up that spotlight in the show.

Did his name ever come up as a potential replacement candidate at all at USM when Coach Monken left?

No, it didn’t. I think he’s very comfortable where he is. You might have had some fans throw it around a little bit, but nothing serious.

Alright, Shannon Dawson. Give me your overall impression of him as an offensive coordinator.

From what I’ve seen, it’s not much different system-wise or scheme-wise from what Southern Miss has run the last three years. They were a balanced spread team, so when you have a quarterback throw for 4,500 yards and two running backs rush for more than a thousand yards, that’s pretty balanced.

I think there will be elements of the air raid system that Dawson kind of made a name for himself with there before he got to Kentucky. So I think there will be some wrinkles of that, but I think more so it will be that balanced spread offense. It’ll be interesting to see how the offense changes after this year when the sort-of “old guard” finishes out and Mullens and Thompson graduate, but I still expect to be pretty close to the same.

The impression I’ve gotten from him here is that he’s a pretty straightforward guy, and he doesn’t pull many punches.

I think we’re in agreement that, Dawson or no Dawson, Southern Miss will probably put up some big numbers against Kentucky’s inexperienced defense, especially in the front seven…But is there any offensive position for Southern Miss that you’re concerned with?

I think it has to be both tackle spots; left and right tackle. They graduated multi-year starters at right and left tackle. So at starting right tackle you have a redshirt freshman, Ty Pollard, who actually had an offer from Kentucky and visited Kentucky, so it’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out.

Then all signs are pointing toward Will Freeman at left tackle, a redshirt senior that came here as a defensive end then moved to defensive tackle and never was able to really beef up to take that abuse play after play on defense. Then all of the sudden, he gets hurt first game of the 2015 season and then ballooned up to 295 lbs., that was where he was when the summer started.

But again, he’s a guy who has never played the offensive side of the ball in college football so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles it. He’s a smart guy and a lot of defensive experience but never playing on the o-line, there could be some issues there.

Moving to the other side, Kentucky’s offense returns nine starters, with our proven talent being at running back. Do you get the impression that the Southern Miss defense might try and pack it in early and force Drew Barker to prove himself by making him throw it around?

I think so, and they haven’t told me anything about this, but it sounds like the obvious move to most people. I’d say they’ll really try to jam up the running backs, Jojo Kemp and Boom Williams, and key on them. And then I’d say they’ll just try to guess in certain situations when Kentucky decides to throw the ball and then try to force some turnovers.

Give me a couple of the Southern Miss defensive guys that Kentucky fans need to be on the lookout for.

I’d keep an eye on defensive lineman Dylan Bradley, he’s a fourth-year defensive starter, and an all-conference guy. At linebacker, you’re looking at Elijah Parker, a three-year starter who’s nothing flashy, but he has a nose for finding the ball.

On the back end, you’re looking at De’Narius Antoine, who was an all-conference guy in his first season last year, who is really special. He’s incredibly athletic, a hard-hitter, and another one with a nose for the ball. He plays with a high level of energy and intensity, and he’s overall just a pretty intense guy out there.

And then what worries you the most on defense, where is the biggest potential hole?

I think probably just the overall undersized nature of the defensive line. They have some good pieces there, some athletic guys who have played a lot of snaps, but they’re just a little undersized there. There aren’t any 300 to 310-pound run-stoppers there in the middle. So they’ll have to get a little creative, especially going against a run game that’s as skilled as Kentucky’s.

Alright, let’s go to your overall prediction against Kentucky, and then, also I’m curious as to the rest of the season for the Golden Eagles?

The more and more I hear about Kentucky’s issues on defense; I think it’s going to be a back and forth, shootout-style situation, at least for the first 2.5-3 quarters. But I think eventually, the veteran leadership on offense will be able to wear down that depth-trap for Kentucky on defense in the front seven.

I think it’ll be close, but after the way Southern Miss ended their 2015 season losing to Western Kentucky in the conference championship and to Washington in the Dallas Bowl, I think the guys that are back – the veterans – are anxious to put their stamp on things and get the win.

Finally, give me your pitch for Hattiesburg as a tourist destination for Kentucky Football fans next year.

It’s a really fun place to hang out for a weekend. It already was a good tailgating scene, and they’ve actually improved it quite a bit. There was a spot on campus when I was a student called ‘The District’ that was the main area. But now they’ve added a second spot called ‘Spirit Park,’ which has really become a solid tailgating scene when you put those two together. Then, as far as the city’s concerned, there are plenty of good night spots and plenty of good eating down here there’s no doubt about it.

NEW KENTUCKY PODCAST AIMS TO REBUILD STATE’S ‘STALE SPORTS RADIO SYSTEM’

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A Kentucky Republican Tuesday launched a new audio series, the New Kentucky Podcast, to cultivate the next generation of sports radio listeners in Kentucky.

John Cox, communications director for the Kentucky Senate Republican Caucus, says he wants his show to include intelligent listeners in all 120 counties who share four core values: a passion for Kentucky Basketball and Football; a universal appreciation for the Commonwealth of Kentucky; a general interest in other random news and views; and a desire for a sports show about UK Athletics, featuring a host from a different side of the political aisle than what listeners are used to.

The methods listeners use to achieve those goals can be respectfully debated, but the goals themselves are non-negotiable, Cox said in an interview.

Kentuckians are badly served by “a biased sports radio system” in which a Democratic host promotes a “left-leaning” agenda while local conservatives fail to offer alternatives, Cox said. Wildcat radio fans are on track to become the next Indiana; a poor, unhealthy fan base that clings to the past, he said.

“It is clear to me that our sports radio model is not working, that liberal hosts as a delivery system for tangible results is not working, and it has to be changed,” said Cox, who currently writes for SB Nation’s A Sea of Blue in his spare time.

Cox — a self-described conservative who has worked in state government for two years — said he has listened to Matt Jones’ radio program for the last three years and has heard the cry of his listeners. Most are disgusted by his constant Liberal sniping over the airwaves because it does nothing to help their sports knowledge, Cox said. KSR is out of touch with what the general public cares about, he added.

“My friends always ask, ‘In a world of 400 channels, why do we think people are going to settle for just one show about Kentucky sports?’” Cox said.

Cox offered examples of leaders he admires, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a strong supporter of Kentucky’s coal industry; U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who identifies government waste and cautions against unnecessary spending; and Governor Matt Bevin, who promotes conservative initiatives to grow jobs and make Kentucky more competitive.

However, it’s difficult for anyone to break into sports radio unless they are personally wealthy or have close connections to industry insiders, Cox said. The New Kentucky Podcast could help by organizing and supporting qualified listeners at the local level in every part of the state, he said. It would be particularly smart to focus on areas that KSR increasingly sees as “unattainable” in terms of affiliates, Cox said.

The New Kentucky Podcast welcomes private donations, Cox said.

The 2016 football season will be the Cox’s first chance to make an impact, because basketball doesn’t start till November. But Cox said he isn’t trying to force his political opinions on anyone, and won’t formally endorse candidates as part of the show. The podcast’s listeners are free to vote under any party label they want, Cox said.

“This isn’t a grand scheme to take over sports radio in Kentucky,” Cox said. “It’s more of a plan to modernize its airwaves.”

FOR THE RECORD: This is strictly satire. I like Matt Jones. I’ve listened to him for several years. His website made a silly rap song/video I created become quite popular locally. I’ve guest-blogged on Kentucky Sports Radio in the past. I think his radio show is entertaining and provides a good source of news for the Big Blue Nation. I also believe Jones is pretty objective when talking politics on his show.

The purpose for parodying  this article is to provide perspective on his new project, not because these are my actual feelings toward his radio show, and not because I’m  seriously  considering starting a show of my own.

I’m just not sure Jones realizes how many conservatives (and perhaps some Kentucky Democrats) are going to read about his new project and feel like they’ve been slapped in the face by his comments. Here is the link to the original Herald-Leader article by John Cheves, which I used as the framework for this piece.

UK Basketball dismantles Duke 74-63 in Champions’ Classic

No. 2-ranked Kentucky passed its first significant test Tuesday night at the United Center in Chicago, ousting the 5th-ranked Duke Blue Devils 74-63 on the hinges of electrifying guard play by sophomore Tyler Ulis and freshmen Jamal Murray and Isiah Briscoe.

The three-headed Wildcat backcourt combined for 48 of the team’s 74 points, to go along with eight steals, 12 assists and just four turnovers. They ran the floor. They penetrated. They passed as well as any John Calipari-team has passed at Kentucky and, ultimately, they won the game.

UK Duke Box
Source: ESPN.com

To put it in perspective, the highly-touted, Kentucky freshman big-man Skal Labissiere was in foul trouble for the entire game. This is a kid who has been projected as high as the number one NBA Draft pick in 2016, and he contributed only seven points and four rebounds in just 13 minutes of action, fouling out with just under five minutes left in the game.

Junior Marcus Lee was a significant inside presence in the first half for the Wildcats and Kentucky certainly would have suffered without his 10 points and 10 rebounds (his first career double-double). But Lee only played 22 minutes and fouled out with 5:55 left in the game.

Kentucky just needed bodies to sit down low, rebound, and occasionally catch a lob in transition for a dunk. The guards handled the rest.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski directs his team during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against the Kentucky Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski directs his team during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against the Kentucky Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Duke coach Mike Kryzewski, 5-time National Champion and the winningest coach in college basketball, had some flattering words to say of Kentucky’s Ulis:

“God was good to him,” Krzyzewski said. “They didn’t give him height, but they gave him probably a heart that’s five times bigger than most people. He has great balance. And he’s got poise. It doesn’t look like he gets tired. He’s in complete control of his team. Competing against him, I admired his presence throughout the game and his face throughout the game. It was the face of a winner, and a really good leader.”

Kentucky heads home to take on the Wright State Raiders this Friday, Nov. 20 at Rupp Arena. Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m. EST on the SEC Network.

Cats survive Colonels in OT

After failing to match Eastern Kentucky’s effort level for the first 53 minutes of Saturday’s game, Kentucky once again overcame adversity to pull out a close win, forcing the Colonels to overtime to take the eventual 34-27 victory.

Coming off a Missouri win that many touted as the biggest of the Stoops era, it’s safe to say the Wildcats overlooked a hungry Eastern Kentucky opponent that showed way more intensity for the majority of Saturday night’s match-up.

After a turnover-plagued first half and failing to answer in the second, Kentucky found itself down to the Colonels 27-13 with just seven minutes to play. The Kentucky offense marched right down the field 75 yards in 2:40 to bring UK within seven after a Jojo Kemp touchdown run.

PHOTO COURTESY: UK ATHLETICS // KENTUCKY WIDE RECEIVER DORIAN BAKER IN UK'S 34-27 OVERTIME VICTORY AGAINST EASTERN KENTUCKY (2015).
PHOTO COURTESY: UK ATHLETICS // KENTUCKY WIDE RECEIVER DORIAN BAKER IN UK’S 34-27 OVERTIME VICTORY AGAINST EASTERN KENTUCKY (2015).

Kentucky’s defense buckled down and forced EKU to go three-and-out on the next drive, giving the ‘Cats just under five minutes to score and get the game to overtime. But it didn’t come easy.

Down seven with :57 left in regulation, UK faced 4th and goal from the five. Patrick Towles called an audible which was a 50-50 ball to receiver Dorian Baker, that luckily, he caught in the endzone to tie the game and send it to overtime.

“I’m right there staring at the jumbo tron, 57 seconds left and I’m seeing it’s fourth-and-3,” Baker said. “I either catch the ball or we lose and I wasn’t taking losing as an option.”

Kentucky won the toss and took the ball in overtime, scoring a touchdown again from a Towles pass to Baker. UK’s defense stepped up when they needed to, and denied the Colonels a chance at a second overtime.

Source: espn.com
Source: espn.com

The game wasn’t pretty, and many have said that Dorian Baker’s catch at the end of regulation saved the program from quite possibly its worst loss in 30 years. Eastern Kentucky was playing in their super bowl while Kentucky was looking ahead to Auburn.

Auburn didn’t look incredibly impressive over the weekend either, as they defeated San Jose State by a score of 35-21 at home. Both Kentucky and Auburn will be off this coming Saturday as they await a huge game in Lexington on Thursday night, Oct. 15 that has already been deemed a sell-out.

  • Auburn (3-2, 0-2) at Kentucky (4-1, 2-1)
    Thursday, Oct. 15 – 7 p.m.
    Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
    TV: ESPN

FROM TWITTER:

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A Breeders’ Cup lesson for Keeneland Opening Weekend

To me, there is no greater month to live in Lexington, Ky. than October. With college football season in full swing and live racing at Keeneland, you’re guaranteed to find a rowdy tailgating atmosphere on any given weekend in the Bluegrass.

Horse racing and Kentucky Wildcat-fans alike tailgating at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. (Photo from kentuckysportsradio.com)
Horse racing and Kentucky Wildcat-fans alike tailgating at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. (Photo from kentuckysportsradio.com)

As many know, this October also marks the first time that Keeneland will play host to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Oct. 30-31. The city will be an absolute zoo that weekend, welcoming thousands of horse racing fans from around the globe to the Breeders’ Cup and also a few less-welcomed Tennessee fans to town when Kentucky plays host to the Vols at Commonwealth Stadium, also on Halloween.

2014 Keeneland Press Conference announcing the arrival of 2015 Breeders' Cup at Keeneland
Keeneland will play host to seven Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races from Oct. 2-10 (bizlex.com photo)

Like all Keeneland October meetings, the historic track also will play host to significant stakes races that serve as qualifiers for the 2015 World Championships. Here is a look at the stakes schedule for the first four race days:

Friday, Oct. 2

  •  $250,000 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix (G3)
    WAYIBC Sprint
  •  $400,000 Darley Alcibiades (G1)
    WAYIBC Juvenile Fillies

Saturday, Oct. 3 (Live coverage on NBC 5-6 p.m. EDT)

  •  $1,000,000 Shadwell Turf Mile (G1)
    WAYIBC Mile
  •  $150,000 Woodford (G3) presented by Keeneland Select
    BC Turf Sprint
  •  $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (G2)
    WAYIBC Filly/Mare Sprint
  •  $400,000 First Lady (G1)
    BC Filly/Mare Turf
  •  $500,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1)
    WAYIBC Juvenile

Sunday, Oct. 4 (Live coverage on NBC 5-6 p.m. EDT)

  •  $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster (G1)
    WAYIBC Distaff
  •  $250,000 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (G3)
    WAYIBC Juvenile Turf

Wednesday, Oct. 7

  •  $150,000 JPMorgan Chase Jessamine (G3)
    WAYIBC Juvenile Fillies Turf

Note: The Woodford and First Lady on Saturday are not official Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races, but the winners are likely to go on to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, respectively.

To most casual sports fans, what the hell do these races mean? How many races are in the Breeders’ Cup? And why is the Breeders’ Cup a big deal?

To answer the first question, I will refer readers to the Where to Start portion of my website that explains how to categorize each race. There are 13 total Breeders’ Cup races, each for a given division of horse. Here’s a look at the full schedule:

BC ScheduleAs you can see, each race awards the winning connections with a huge amount of prize money, marking the proverbial champion in each division. It’s a bigger deal to horse people than the Triple Crown, because horses who run in the Triple Crown really only make up about one half of the Classic division. Only 3-year-old horses are allowed to run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, so the Breeders’ Cup Classic puts 3-year-olds head-to-head with older, more experienced horses. The Classic has been dominated mostly by males, so there’s also a complimentary race called the Distaff for females only. Here is a chart I created to make sense of how these races are divided:

BC 15Some vocab:

  • Route: means a race is contested at a distance over one mile
  • Route (for age): I put “route for age” because a mile distance, as in the Juvenile Turf and Juvenile Fillies Turf, can still be considered a route when talking about 2-year-old horses
  • Mile: means the race is contested at the distance of exactly one mile
  • Sprint: means the race is contested under a mile.
  • Furlong: is a unit of measure equaling 1/8 of a mile. We use furlongs to measure sprint races.
  • Dirt: race is contested on the dirt track
  • Turf: race is contested on the turf course
  • Filly: a female horse, age four or younger
  • Mare: a female horse, aged four or older (not sure exactly when a filly becomes a mare)
  • Juvenile: a 2-year-old horse

Now that you have a feel for what the races actually mean, I’ll refer you to the Breeders’ Cup website if you’re interested in learning more about the prospective contenders for each race.

The main thing is to watch these “Win and You’re In” races closely, because you never know when you might see a horse that goes on to be a Breeders’ Cup winner.

Cats top Tigers, move to 3-1

On a make-or-break night for Kentucky’s Patrick Towles, the junior quarterback rose to the occasion by throwing two touchdowns and running for another in Kentucky’s 21-13 victory over 25th-ranked Missouri Saturday in Lexington.

The victory was the Wildcats’ first over a ranked opponent since 2010, when UK upset a South Carolina team who came into Commonwealth Stadium ranked 10th. Missouri’s loss ended an 11-game road win streak for the two-time SEC East defending-champion Tigers.

After a frustrating performance a week before against Florida, Towles connected on 22 of 27 passes for 249 yards, hitting receiver Dorian Baker and tight end C.J. Conrad for the two passing TD’s. Towles tucked the ball on 3rd and 9 for a 14-yard score to tie the game at the beginning of the second quarter, completing a nine-play, 82-yard drive.

Missouri defense entered the game as the conference’s best  statistically and fourth-best nationally. But Kentucky’s offense stepped up in a huge way, moving its overall record to 3-1 and 2-1 in the SEC East.

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com

Following the game, UK head coach Mark Stoops had some positive feedback for his starting quarterback.

“I was telling the team in there that I’m pretty stingy with game balls, but I think he deserved one tonight,” Stoops said of Towles. “… I thought he played a really good game and made some really good plays with his feet and was aggressive down the stretch.”

“A lot went into preparing for the game tonight,” Towles added. “Coach and I tweaked something with my throwing motion and I felt I was more accurate.”

With the win, the Wildcats moved a step closer to becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. More exciting for the Big Blue Nation is the amount of winnable games left on the schedule, which includes home games versus Eastern Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, Charlotte and Louisville; and away games at #21 Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and #8 Georgia.

How future opponents performed:

Eastern Kentucky (2-1, 1-0) convincingly beat Austin Peay 51-3 in Richmond, marking their first conference win.

Outlook: The Colonels do not have enough talent to hang with Kentucky, especially at Commonwealth.

Sep 26, 2015; Auburn, AL, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) scrambles for yardage against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2015; Auburn, AL, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) scrambles for yardage against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn (2-2, 0-2) lost at home to Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1). Auburn entered the season ranked sixth nationally, but after escaping close games against Louisville (31-24) and Jacksonville State (27-20 OT), the Tigers have dropped out of the polls after losing two straight (lost 45-21 at LSU in week 3).

Outlook (Auburn): Entering the season, the Thursday night match-up between Kentucky and Auburn on Oct. 15 looked like a much bigger challenge for the Wildcats. But with a rowdy crowd anticipated for the program’s first Thursday night home game, and several unanswered questions for Auburn, this will be a highly competitive and seemingly winnable test for UK.

Outlook (Mississippi State): The Bulldogs lost six offensive and seven defensive starters from a team that went 10-3 last season. Kentucky was competitive with then-ranked #1 Mississippi State at home last year where they lost 45-31. The level of depth and talent has improved significantly for the Wildcats in 2015; but Mississippi State will be a tough match-up for UK in just the second road game of the year. I’m predicting Mississippi State gets the best of Kentucky in Starkville, but it should be a close game.

Sep 26, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Will Grier (7) drops back as Tennessee Volunteers defensive lineman Corey Vereen (50) defends during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Tennessee Volunteers 28-27. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Will Grier (7) drops back as Tennessee Volunteers defensive lineman Corey Vereen (50) defends during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Tennessee Volunteers 28-27. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Florida Gators in Gainesville, 28-27.

Outlook: It certainly helps Kentucky’s chances playing at home and at night against the Vols this year on Halloween. Tennessee crushed a depleted UK team last season, but knowing both the ‘Cats and Vols were both just a few bad plays from beating Florida in 2015 makes me think this game will be a lot closer in Commonwealth.

# 8 Georgia (4-0, 2-0) routed Southern 48-6 in Athens last Saturday. The Bulldogs have yet to see a ranked opponent in 2015, but that will change when they play host to #13 Alabama on Oct. 3.

Outlook: Georgia is the toughest remaining opponent on the Wildcats’ schedule. Kentucky’s defense has been much improved through the first four games, but Georgia’s balanced attack of quarterback Greyson Lambert (1st in the SEC in QB rating) and running back Nick Chubb (2nd leading rusher in the SEC) will create some challenges. It’s hard for me to predict a blowout for the ‘Dawgs before we’ve seen them play a legitimate opponent, but if Georgia can hand Alabama its second loss of the season, UK may have their hands full on Nov. 7.

Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2) surprised some people with its overall effort in a 27-16 loss to #3 Ole Miss in Week 4.

Outlook: Kentucky fans and analysts have already predicted a win on Nov. 14 in Nashville, but the Commodores should not be overlooked. Kentucky certainly will be a favorite, but Vanderbilt has played much tough against Georgia (lost 31-14) and now Ole Miss. My message for Coach Stoops and the Wildcats: don’t sleep on Vandy. A poor performance in Nashville could lead to a wake-up call if the ‘Dores continue to improve.

Charlotte (2-2, 0-2) suffered a 17-7 home loss last Saturday against Florida Atlantic.

Outlook: Expect a lopsided victory for Kentucky at home against the 49ers on Nov. 21.

Louisville (1-3, 0-1) captured its first victory of the season in defeating Samford 45-3 at Papa Johns’ Cardinal Stadium Saturday. The Cards lost their first three games to #6 Auburn, Houston and #11 Clemson by a combined 13 points. Not many of the Cardinal-faithful anticipated a close loss to Houston in Week 2, but with former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman taking over the top coaching spot for Houston, the Cougars are coming on strong in 2015.

Outlook: Louisville is not nearly as bad as their record shows. Rivalry games are always heated and close between the ‘Cats and the Cards, no matter the sport. But with home field advantage in the last regular season game, Kentucky will have a great opportunity to snap its 4-game losing streak to Louisville.

PREDICTION FOR KENTUCKY’S FINAL REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 8-4.

Just getting to 6-6 and a bowl bid would be a huge step in the right direction for the Wildcats. But I see three more home wins over Eastern Kentucky, Charlotte and Louisville, a road win against Vandy, a loss at Georgia, and potentially one more win against either Auburn/Tennessee at home or at Mississippi State.

An 8-4 record would likely put UK at 4-4 in the conference. Kentucky has not won eight games in a regular season since 1984, when the ‘Cats went on to defeat Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Bowl the same year.

Opportunity Lost: Florida streak vs. UK extended

For Kentucky fans, this was the game we had circled during the off-season. After squeaking out the first two wins in the face of some adversity fans were confident that, against Florida, this was UK’s best chance to end the nation’s longest-running losing streak.

Commonwealth Stadium was packed to the brim Saturday night for what was supposed to be a huge party in Lexington. Unfortunately for Kentucky fans, that party was cut short as Kentucky suffered its 29th consecutive loss to the Gators, 14-9.

The Wildcats had multiple opportunities to score touchdowns, but when the time came to make the big plays, they simply could not capitalize. The Gator defensive line won the battle in the trenches against a less-experienced Kentucky counterpart. UK’s wide receivers dropped some passes that could have been TD’s. Florida’s defense blitzed constantly, recording six sacks on quarterback Patrick Towles. Towles hit only eight of 24 pass attempts with two interceptions.

For the second straight time, Kentucky receiver Dorian Baker let the ball slip out of his hands in the Wildcats’ first pass play. It was also the second consecutive game that Towles would eventually throw an interception for a touchdown in UK’s opening drive. It’s difficult to put all of the blame on Towles when receivers are dropping catches and lineman are repeatedly getting beat in “one-on-one” situations.

Source: ESPN.com
Source: ESPN.com

The heartbreak in Commonwealth was real and the only way to overcome it is to move on and try and forget about “the streak” until next season.

The ‘Cats opened as a 2.5-point favorite for their matchup next Saturday with the #25-ranked Missouri Tigers. If Saturday’s game told fans anything, it is that the margin of error required to get a victory against an SEC opponent is very small. The offensive line must improve their protection, Towles has to make more accurate throws, and our receivers have to catch the ball when good throws are made.

Missouri is the two-time defending SEC East Champion. The Tigers have an undefeated record, are ranked in the top 25, have the nation’s fourth-best defense, and yet, Kentucky is still the favorite. This came as a surprise to me, but hopefully Kentucky can keep Vegas honest and pull out a big win.

  • Missouri (3-0, 0-0) at Kentucky (2-1, 1-1)
    Saturday, Sept. 26 – 7:30 p.m.
    Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
    TV: SEC Network

Cats knock off ‘Cocks, bowl bid looks promising

For the first time since 2010, Kentucky football got a road win, defeating South Carolina for the second consecutive season in a 26-22 victory Saturday.

Similar to week one, UK got out to a strong start in the first half, leading the Gamecocks 24-7. The ‘Cats put together four impressive scoring drives that resulted in rushing touchdowns from JoJo Kemp, Mikel Horton and Patrick Towles, along with a field goal from Austin MacGinnis.

Also like in week one, Kentucky struggled in the second half, their only two points coming when South Carolina fumbled attempting a game-tying two-point conversion, which led to a 98-yard return from UK’s Denzel Ware.

UK punted the ball on its first five possessions, but an interception by Kentucky-freshman Chris Westry with 4:26 left in the game allowed the UK offense to run out the clock and get a 2-0 start to the season.

In the latest ESPN bowl projections, both columnists predict Kentucky to take on Memphis in the December 30 Birmingham Bowl.

Courtesy of ESPN.com
Courtesy of ESPN.com

The ‘Cats return home to face Florida on Saturday, as they look to break another losing streak, having lost to the Gators 28 consecutive times.

  • Florida (2-0, 0-0) at Kentucky (2-0, 1-0)
    Saturday, Sept. 19 – 7:30 p.m.
    Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
    TV: SEC Network