Tide, Bulldogs should be near top again in ‘18

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2018

When the 2018 college football season kicks off, it appears defending national champion Alabama and national runner-up Georgia will rank among the top five squads and that’s not a big surprise.

However, that’s bad news for Kentucky, which is coming off a 7-6 Music City Bowl campaign. The Wildcats will be facing a tough Georgia club, coached by Kirby Smart, a Nick Saban disciple, at Kroger Field in early November on their 2018 schedule.

As you’ll remember, Georgia whipped UK 42-13 in Athens about two months ago.

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Fortunately for UK, it does not meet Alabama this fall as new coach Jimbo Fisher and his Texas A&M squad will serve as a rotating SEC Western Division opponent for the 2018 Wildcats. It would be UK’s first visit to College Station, Texas since 1952.

Anyhow, Kentucky is not scheduled to play against the Crimson Tide until the 2023 season and that contest will take place in Lexington. Nick Saban would be 72 on Oct. 31, 2023. Of course, he may not be coaching by that time.

In addition to playing all six SEC Eastern Division opponents along with the Aggies, UK, which finished with a 4-4 league mark this past season, will host Mississippi State at Kroger Field in late September. The Bulldogs are Kentucky’s permanent annual foe from SEC’s Western Division.

For Kentucky, the other SEC home games include dates with an improved South Carolina team, which finished with a 9-4 mark after defeating Michigan 26-19 in the Outback Bowl, and Vanderbilt.

As for four non-conference opponents, the Wildcats will host Central Michigan (season opener), Murray State and Middle Tennessee, and visit Louisville (season finale on Thanksgiving weekend).

Like the Wildcats, Central Michigan is coming off a bowl campaign. The Chippewas finished with an 8-5 mark, including a 37-14 setback in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Central Michigan also lost one of its famous alumni recently. Legendary broadcaster and Michigan native Dick Enberg, who passed away in December, was a student reporter who received his bachelor’s degree from CMU during the 1950s. Over the years, he visited the campus often and shared his broadcasting tips and experiences with the students.

Ohio Valley Conference’s Murray State, meanwhile, completed its 2017 season with a 3-8 worksheet. The Racers, who compete in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), reportedly will get a $450,000 guarantee to play at Kroger Field.

It also has been reported that UK is paying $1.2 million to play Middle Tennessee, which dropped to Vanderbilt 28-6 at home in the 2017 season opener but upset Syracuse 30-23 on the road in the following week during its 7-6 campaign, including a victory in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.

Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill was recently honored with a special award at the American Football Coaches Association 2018 Convention. The Middle Tennessee boss received The Jason Foundation, Inc.’s Grant Teaff “Breaking the Silence” Award, given annually to an AFCA member coach or organization who has helped “break the silence” and build community awareness for suicide prevention. Nick Saban of Alabama, by the way, captured the same award in 2017.

In addition to Kentucky, Middle Tennessee will have road games at two SEC venues – Vanderbilt and Georgia – in 2018. Blue Raiders will receive $1.7 million for the Georgia game.

Interestingly, in 2019, Middle Tennessee reportedly will be getting $1.6 million for playing at Michigan.

In the annual battle for the Governor’s Cup, Kentucky will travel to Louisville, which finished at 8-5 after a 31-27 loss to Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl, won’t have superstar QB Lamar Jackson, who recently declared for the NFL Draft.

Needless to say, three of UK’s four matchups with non-SEC foes actually aren’t going to be that easy so the Wildcats obviously will need to work and play well to win.

Overall, UK will have seven home games with five on the road, including a November trip to Knoxville to meet the Vols and their new boss, Jeremy Pruitt, who just helped Alabama capture its national crown.

If you want my very early, early football prediction for the 2018 Wildcats, I’d say UK has a decent chance to finish with a 6-6 mark.

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If you are an SEC football fan, you will enjoy a recently-published hardcover, titled “4th & Goal Every Day: Alabama’s Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99). Written by ex-Cleveland Browns general manager and current Crimson Tide radio analyst Phil Savage and journalist Ray Glier, the 304-page book is a fascinating look at Alabama football and Nick Saban’s coaching style with many insider nuggets.