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#75 Kentucky Wildcats Preview
Spring training is on the books and fall camps will be here before you know it, which means jumping into the 2006 NCAA football season early. Knowing the teams now will save you time in August and Matt Fargo is here to help you figure out what to expect this coming year. We’re going from worst to first in this 2006 college football preview.
#75 – Kentucky Wildcats 3-8 SU; 6-4 CEP
Fargo’s Take Kentucky is coming off a 3-8 season in 2005, which was pretty impressive considering what the Wildcats have been through. Injuries have plagued the team throughout the season, especially on the defensive end of the ball, as Kentucky allowed 34.1 points per game, 107th in the nation and the most allowed by the Wildcats since 2000. With a healthy team, Kentucky has a chance to be the most improved team in the SEC as the schedule works very well in their favor. The Wildcats are bringing back 16 starters as well as many players who gained good experience a season ago. Head coach Rich Brooks is once again in the hot seat, but it could be his best team in four years at school unless last year’s injury bug happens again. A winning season is more than possible and it will probably be the only thing that will prevent Brooks from receiving the pink slip at the end of the year.
Returning Offensive Starters – 9 High-powered offenses at Lexington have been a thing of the past for the past two seasons, but 2006 could reverse that downward trend. Nine starters are back, including one of the best players in the conference that most people have never heard of. Tailback Rafael Little did it all for the Wildcats last year, leading the team in rushing and receiving while finishing 5th in the nation in all-around yardage. He’ll run behind one of the best offensive lines in the conference as Kentucky welcomes back all five starters from last season. The biggest question marks are around the quarterback and receiver, but things don’t bode well. Last year’s starting quarterback Andre Woodson will be pushed in the fall by second Curtis Pulley, a gifted runner who won the majority of snaps with the first team in the spring. The receiving corps is young and inexperienced, but they are a very talented group and have the ability to make big plays with their speed.
Returning starters on defense – 7 The Wildcats allowed at least 43 points five times last season, including three of their last four games. Things will be better this year mainly because Kentucky is healthy and the recruiting issues that have plagued the program for a few years are returning to normal. The top seven are strong as some key players return from injury, namely senior defensive tackle Lamar Mills. Joining him on the line is second student Myron Pryor who came out of the spring with the highest honors of all defensive players. The secondary is led by cornerback Bo Smith, who was the Wildcats’ top defenseman in 2005, but it will be up to a lot of young players to bolster the passing defense. There are plenty of playmakers on this side of the ball and if Kentucky can avoid the injuries that devastated the unit last year, they have the ability to be one of the best defenses in the SEC. Young players will play big roles so their maturation is necessary from the start.
Schedule Like any SEC team, the schedule is tough depending on conference strength, but the Wildcats catch a few breaks along the way. They miss SEC West Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas while three of their five SEC East games are at home (Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt). Overall, Kentucky only has five games on the road and while four of those are certain losses to Louisville, Florida, LSU and Tennessee, at least those games don’t take away from some. winnable home contests. Non-conference home games against Texas St., Central Michigan and La-Monroe are about as sure as can be, so with a few breaks the Wildcats can come off the slate with six wins. The key game is a road game at Mississippi St. that could be the difference between a losing season or a season that makes them eligible for bowling.
You can bet on… Kentucky is just 6-24 in its last 30 road games and will be tested from the start against rival Louisville. The Wildcats played very hard against the Cardinals last season in a seven-point loss and it wouldn’t be surprising if they played them again. Kentucky has posted winning ATS records in three of the past four years and this team is blessed to be better than all of those previous editions. The point guards probably won’t give the Wildcats much credit early on (getting as many as four touchdowns against the Cardinals in Game 1), so that’s where the best value might be. The conference opener at home against Mississippi might be a good spot if you get points, as Kentucky was solid 4-1 against the number last season as a home pup.
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