LEXINGTON —Notes and quotes on college football in general and University of Kentucky football specifically as the Wildcats kick off the 2014 season at noon here Saturday vs. the UT-Martin Skyhawks:
With any luck, the honeymoon period enjoyed by UK coach Mark Stoops and his staff should extend through his second season.
I pick the Wildcats to win four games (more later) this fall and play more competitively against the big boys in the Southeastern Conference than they generally did a year ago.
Stoops and company must know they can buy some time with a convincing win at Commonwealth Stadium in Saturday’s opener against the worst team on the schedule: UT-Martin.
The game will be televised on the SEC Network and is Kentucky’s first chance to open on its home field since 2007.
“Just playing at home in the opener is exciting to me,” said Stoops this week, obviously ready to take small victories anywhere he can find them. “I know our fans are ready to go. We need to do our part. We need to go out there and start fast and play good football, play with great energy, play with great discipline ... make it exciting for the fans.”
In other words, Kentucky needs to take advantage of an obvious increase in talent — albeit still very young talent — and take this one something like 42-17, 49-10.
If this game ends up more like 28-20, 24-17, then restlessness in BBN will be evident before the Wildcats get to their week two opponent, Ohio University (Sept. 6 at 3:30 at home). A Kentucky loss or even a close win vs. Martin and suddenly the traffic hassles, parking hassles and gate closures due to the construction around the stadium will be magnified.
Many season ticket holders have been reassigned to new lots this season.
For all the game day changes, go to www.ukathletics.com/fbgameday.
I sense that Stoops feels confident about the UT-Martin game, based on a couple comments he made this week.
1. When asked about the Skyhawks, Stoops said they are “well coached” and “very multiple.”
“They can do a lot of things,” Stoops said.
Those are things you always hear when an opponent is over-matched.
2. Stoops also said he will be very disappointed if UK’s backup quarterback Reese Phillips, does not see playing time Saturday, while emphatically noting that Patrick Towles is a decisive No. 1 guy at QB.
UT-Martin coach Jason Simpons is in his ninth year at the school and returns 10 starters from a team that finished 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the OVC a year ago.
Dylan Favre has the big name at quarterback for the Skyhawks because he’s the nephew of former NFL great Brett Favre. However, you may see redshirt junior Jarod Neal at QB Saturday more often than you see Favre.
Defensively, senior linebacker Tony Bell is a stud for Martin. Bell had 80 tackles last season, including 10.5 sacks.
No better than 4-8
I can’t pick Kentucky to do any better than 4-8 in 2014 simply because the Wildcats are still much too young at nearly every spot other than defensive end.
I’m excited about Stoops’ choice of Towles at quarterback, and also feel like Phillips and true freshman Drew Barker could have a bright future at Kentucky. But none of those three are ready for the big boys of the SEC. I expect it to take all of this season and more for them to get to that point.
UK will be favored in only three games: UT-Martin, Ohio U., and Louisiana-Monroe (Oct. 11).
The Wildcats have a puncher’s chance versus Vanderbilt at home on Sept . 27 and against Mississippi State at home on Oct. 25.
Kentucky will likely be a decided underdog against everybody else: at Florida (Sept. 13); at LSU (Oct. 18 ... yikes), at Missouri (Nov. 1), at Tennessee (Nov. 15) and at Louisville (Nov. 29), along with home dates vs. South Carolina (Oct. 4) and Georgia (Nov. 8).
The biggest game on the schedule may well be Vanderbilt in Week 4. If Kentucky can upset the Commodores, they will likely be 3-1 and probably have enough momentum to keep the buzz in recruiting going, no matter what happens the rest of the way.
The Wildcats will probably have to win at Florida, or post SEC wins over Vanderbilt AND Mississippi State to have a shot at .500 regular season and a bowl.
UK sophomore Ryan Timmons, a Franklin County grad, is expected to start Saturday at wide receiver and back up senior Demarco Robinson as a punt returner.
My picks to reach the four-team playoff this season are: Florida State, Alabama, Michigan State and Oregon, with Florida State taking the national championship.
My next four are Baylor, UCLA, Oklahoma and Georgia, in that order.