In Week 7, the Gamecocks take on the Kentucky Wildcats. This will be the 22nd meeting between the two schools. Carolina enjoys a 14-6-1 overall record against the 'Cats, including a current 10-game winning streak. That streak combined with Steve Spurrier's overall perfect record against Kentucky has given fuel to this series over the past few years, as Kentucky fans have been left wondering why they continue to lack success against us despite typically finishing with a similar overall record. Kentucky fans want a win here, without a doubt.
I'll have to admit that I do somewhat share the surprise that 'Cats fans feel at the recent tenor of this series. It seems that no matter what happens when we play these guys, we find a way to win despite Kentucky's best efforts. You would think they would have won at least one game over the past decade.
However, no one should be too surprised here. While the two teams are seemingly comparable in terms of success given the similar overall records over the past few years--we're 35-28 since 2005 and Kentucky is 33-30, with the main difference being Kentucky's 3-8 2005 campaign--it's worth noting that Kentucky has generally enjoyed easier schedules than us. Their OOC slates have been fairly weak since Louisville fell off as a successful program after the departure of Bobby Petrino, and the 'Cats regular Western Division opponent is Mississippi State, a team that generally isn't going to give you as much trouble as our series with Arkansas causes us.
It's also important to recognize the relative recruiting success these two programs enjoy. Over the past five years, USC has attained an average national ranking of 17.6 as rated by Rivals.com. Kentucky, on the other hand, averages in at 47.6th in the nation. That equals a lot of four-star prospects for Carolina lining up against a lot of two- and three-star prospects for Kentucky, as well as significant differences in depth. Recruiting rankings, of course, aren't infallible, but they do present some general truths.
In sum, the truth of the matter here is that while Carolina and Kentucky generally finish with similar records, they're both also fairly entrenched at the fourth and fifth spots in the SEC East, respectively. Both generally lose to the same upper-echelon teams, and Kentucky generally loses to Carolina. That seems to be the current status quo.
Let's take a look at what Kentucky brings to the plate this year.
Offense: Kentucky fielded a fairly competent offense last year. Their running game led the way, and that should continue to be the case this season. The 'Cats return solid RB Derrick Locke and jack-of-all-trades Randall Cobb. They do have to replace three starters on the offensive line, which may present problems. The Wildcats are also still trying to figure out who will start at QB, with Mike Hartline, Morgan Newton, and former big-time recruit Ryan Mossakowski all vying for the spot. This isn't a huge liability for the 'Cats, though, as either of these three could end up being the best 'Cat under center since Andre Woodson. All in all, I expect a decent Kentucky offense this year.
Defense: There are some serious question marks for Kentucky here. The 'Cats return an experienced defensive line, but past that they have some key replacements to make. The biggest two are LB Micah Johnson and CB Trevard Lindley. Kentucky may struggle a good bit on this side of the ball this year.
Player Whose Name You Should Remember: Randall Cobb, QB / RB / WR / KR. Cobb does everything for Kentucky, performing a role reminisicent of what Syvelle Newton did for us during his career. Expect to see Joker Phillips try to get Cobb the ball any way he can. He was a monster against us out of the wildcat last year. If I were a Kentucky fan, I would have taken issue with Rich Brook's choice not to leave him under center permanently after Hartline's injury.
What to Expect: Kentucky found a lot of success running the ball against us last year, and I'll admit that the Locke and Cobb attack on offense scares me. However, if our offense continues to improve, we should be able to score a lot of points against this team. Kentucky has little that makes me think they're going to be able to defend our big receiving corps, and if we can keep the offense on the field, we should be able to keep our defense fresh enough to limit Kentucky's offense.
Prediction: I expect a relatively close Carolina victory here. More of the same, really. Expect multiple lead changes through the late third quarter, but for Carolina to take over late as Kentucky fatigues.