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South Carolina 2016 opponent preview: Can the Gamecocks avenge Kentucky?

Six wins may be the threshold for Mark Stoops and his group in 2016.

Missouri v Kentucky Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats have been a team that has never been able to get out of its own way. However, with a 2-6 SEC record (5-7 overall) last year, including a 26-22 win over the Gamecocks, they actually found themselves ahead of South Carolina in the standings. But back to back 5-7 marks - three wins better than Mark Stoops’ 2-10 debut season in 2013 - have Big Game Bob’s younger brother in some hot water in Lexington. Granted, if you’re a football coach at Kentucky, you have the luxury of having fairly mediocre (at best) expectations, especially with the basketball program chugging along as it has over the last number of years.

Like the Gamecocks, the Cats entered the offseason with questions surrounding their starting quarterback as Patrick Towles (whose grandfather, Jim Bunning, was known for both his Hall of Fame baseball career and a nearly 25-year run as a Republican Congressman) transferred to Boston College and will be eligible immediately. Drew Barker will "get the keys to the car", in Stoops’ own words. The redshirt sophomore saw limited action last year (including starting the last two games of the season) and was relatively servicable. Expectations are high; Barker was the #6 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2014 and was considered the #1 rated player in the state of Kentucky in his class. There won’t be any questions as to who will appear at RB: Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp have that covered. However, as much as Stoops tried to spin it during Media Days, that defense is hurting big time with the loss of All-SEC second teamer Cory Johnson, LB Josh Forrest, and safety A.J. Stamps. I suppose that we shouldn’t mark this one down as a win considering Kentucky’s found a way to beat Carolina over the past two seasons, so we might refrain for now.

Last year: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)

Best returning player: Boom Williams

Vanderbilt v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Let’s be honest. If Boom Williams isn’t at his best for the Wildcats in 2016, it’s going to be a very long season for them. Williams recorded 855 yards and six touchdowns on 151 carries. He and Jojo Kemp bring a one-two punch at running back that, when running at all cylinders, can set Kentucky up for success. The Cats recorded a decent 162.27 yards per game last year (9th in the SEC), but with an experienced O-line corps, that should go up.

Prognosis: I’m not ready to call the Wildcats a contender in the SEC East. Georgia, Tennessee and Florida are simply better than them on paper at this point in time. Having said that, Vandy, Mizzou and South Carolina appear to be beatable opponents. If they can sweep those three and take care of business against Austin Peay and New Mexico State, and maybe a Dak Prescott-less Mississippi State in one of their crossover games to get to the magic number of six wins and their first bowl since 2010, then that could probably be all you can ask of them right now. For that to happen, they may have to lean on their running attack a little more unless Barker can live up to expectations.