TARGET FILE: at Kentucky [10.11.08]

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You haven't had to go far this season -- just to a Kentucky-centric blog, really -- to find some of the Wildcat faithful boasting of how their team is primed this year to beat South Carolina. It's an understandable obsession; the last time they beat the Gamecocks, Bill Clinton was still in the White House and the United States was just a few months removed from winning the war in Kosovo. (Remember that?)

Since then, South Carolina has reeled off eight straight. And the Gamecocks hired Steve Spurrier, who hasn't lost to Kentucky in 15 games against the Wildcats.

Think about that for a minute: Last year, Vanderbilt beat South Carolina. And Kentucky didn't.

Not that they haven't caused coronary episodes for Gamecock fans. They lost 27-21 in 2003, and 12-7 a  year later when the hero was none other than Michael Rathe. (Remember him? No?) The 24-17 victory in Lexington two years ago was the result of a successful trick play by South Carolina and an unsuccessful one by Kentucky.

But gaps in talent and, more significantly this year, experience still exist between Kentucky and South Carolina (as they do between the Gamecocks and the top of the SEC East). That should be enough for the streak to go to nine games.

OFFENSE

O-line. Kentucky returns four starters to the entire offense, according to Steele, and three of them are on the line. The Wildcats allowed more sacks per game (2.92) than any other team in the SEC last year. They also threw it a lot more. It pans out to about 7.2 percent, which isn't setting the world on fire but also isn't bad. The running game was also pretty successful. ADVANTAGE: KENTUCKY

Quarterback. South Carolina spent the offseason trying to keep a potential third-string signal-caller out of jail. Kentucky spent the offseason trying to keep a potential starter out of jail. Well, a potential starter at the time -- not any more. Mike Hartline has attempted six passes in his college career. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

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And they lose this guy -- Woodman, or Goodson, or something like that.

Running backs. Rafael Little, he of the 1,013 yards and 3 TDs last year, is gone. Tony Dixon will probably be the feature back this year, after rushing for 411 yards and 4 TDs last season. But look for a couple of other players, including Derrick Locke (521, 5) to also get some carries. Depth alone carries this one. ADVANTAGE: KENTUCKY

Wide receivers. When you lose a 1,041-yard, 13-TD wide receiver, you're probably in trouble. When you also lose a 741-yard, 9-TD wide reciever, you're definitely in trouble. Kentucky is definitely in trouble. Dicky Lyons is a nice player, but no other returning WR or TE had more than seven receptions last year. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

DEFENSE

Defensive line. Last year, Kentucky's rushing defense was 94th in the nation, allowing 191.1 yards per game. They averaged 1.9 sacks a game, tied for 73rd. The star of the unit is Jeremy Jarmon, who last year had 13.5 TFL, including 9 sacks. ADVANTAGE: KENTUCKY

Linebackers. The Wildcats return two starters, Johnny Williams and Braxton Kelley, but neither of them impress, at least on paper. The third linebacker, Micah Johnson, might actually be the best of the bunch. South Carolina, for its part, has one of the best lineback corps in the SEC. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Secondary. Kentucky returns eight picks, as does South Carolina. Trevard Lindley and Paul Warford are solid players. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

SPECIAL TEAMS

Tim Masthay was a quality punter and kickoff specialist last year. Lones Seiber was lackluster on FGs. The Wildcats lose a lot of their kick and punt return yards. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

COACHING

Rich Brooks is 0-3 against Spurrier. He has a worse record (19-18) over the last three seasons than Spurrier (21-16) and over his career. (Brooks isn't even .500 as a head coach.) ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

THE RESULT

Kentucky isn't going to be anybody's cupcake this year. They are a good team. But the losses on offense are just too much for a team that hasn't given us any reason in the past to believe that they can beat South Carolina. Another close win -- but a victory nonetheless. LIKELY WIN

THE REST OF THEIR SEASON

Good teams go 6-6 or maybe 7-5 in the SEC. That's probably about right for the Wildcats. They have five should-wins on the schedule: Norfolk State, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Arkansas and Vanderbilt. They've also got a good shot in games at Louisville and at Mississippi State, as well as outside shots at upsets against South Carolina and at Tennessee. 6-6

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