Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2014
In spite of the nice uptick in recruiting with the hiring of coach Mark Stoops, the Kentucky five- and 10-year average classes were both calculated at No. 48. Until they were passed in the last five years by Vanderbilt, the Wildcats were locked in as the second to last recruiter in the SEC. Their 37th-ranked recruiting class this year was great compared to their history, but still second to last in the SEC. It is a slow process and hopefully over the next two years, they can keep it up and start closing the gap on the conference. They do return eight starters on both sides of the ball as well as 71 percent of their offensive production and 81 percent of the defensive stats. They are going to need all of it.
I don’t rank head coaches with only one season in the Coach Effect or Coach Result numbers. However, the 2013 results give me a place to start, when considering where this might be headed. The Wildcats’ projected record on CFB Matrix talent and schedule was 4-8 and with the average new head coach effect of minus-1 game, the base projection was 3-9 for Kentucky in 2013. Stoops ended with a minus -2 game coach effect due to the 2-2 record at home on predicted wins. There is a lot of room for improvement in 2014.
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Here is a team that will really be hurt, if the SEC goes to a nine-game conference schedule. In the SEC, when you are a bottom three recruiter, that extra game is very likely a loss. There are no easy schedules in the SEC, but Kentucky’s 2014 schedule is about as easy as it could hope for. The Wildcats face the 12th-rated schedule in the SEC, based on average opposing talent ranking, and the 13th-rated schedule in the SEC, based on opposing coaching.
Kentucky’s use of bye weeks is not my favorite. The Wildcats have a mid-season stretch of eight straight games. They will kick off the season at Commonwealth Stadium with nice tune-up wins over Tennessee Martin and Ohio before heading out to Gainesville in Week 3. Until last year, the Gators had taken care of business at home against teams that were ranked outside my top 30 in talent. I expect 2013 to be more of an outlier for the Gators and take them to win in The Swamp. The Wildcats are 2-1 heading into their first bye week. Out of the bye week, they get three straight at home. It starts with a win over Vanderbilt. Had this been coach James Franklin leading the Commodores into Lexington, I would go the other direction, but with a new head coach and talent equal to UK, the Matrix has Kentucky in this game.
Week 5 welcomes the Gamecocks and a head coach that is 37-3 when I pick him to win. However, the Cats bounce back with a win over ULM the very next week to run the record to 4-2 before it gets real nasty. It is going to take a huge coaching effort to find two wins in the next 6 games starting at LSU. Baton Rouge is not a fun place to visit. LSU coach Les Miles is the grim reaper of home coaches and is an auto-pick to win in Death Valley. If UK is going to find a win, it is in Week 9 at home against Mississippi State or on the road at Missouri in Week 10. I don’t trust Stoops yet to take him to win either one, though, I would lean to the home game with the Bulldogs as the best choice.
I have Kentucky falling to 4-5 after the loss at Missouri. Home against Georgia? Nope. There’s too big of a talent gap in favor of the Bulldogs, and the same goes for at Tennessee the following week. These last two with UGA and the Vols are at the end of an eight-game streak. Tennessee will be coming off of a bye, but Georgia will be in a mental letdown scenario after having just played the Gators.
I am not sure why, but the Cats get a Week 13 bye before going on the road to face coach Bobby Petrino and Louisville. The talent levels are close enough and, if the game was at Kentucky, I’d take the Wildcats. But since it’s on the road, I have Kentucky losing and finishing at 4-8.
Dave’s Quick and Dirty CFBMatrix Review: With the 37th-ranked roster in the CFBMatrix, Kentucky will be more talented than six of its opponents in 2014. This is a 6-6 baseline talent record. With scheduling adjustments, they drop to 4-8 with road games at Louisville and Missouri. Without any wins in games they are picked to lose, I cannot adjust the Wildcats’ record up to 5 or 6 wins on coach effect. That is something Stoops and his staff need to prove for the trends to change.