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2019 Opponent Preview: Kentucky

Can this be the year? Please?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

After a brief road trip to Bizarro Columbia, the South Carolina Gamecocks return home to tangle with what has unfortunately and inexplicably become one of their most hated arch-nemeses: the Kentucky Wildcats, current owners of an infuriating five-game streak over South Carolina. It goes without saying that if the Gamecocks are going to get on the right track under Will Muschamp, they need to get this monkey off their backs and re-enter the win column against Big Blue Nation. It’s hard to say you’re making progress when a program you’ve historically beaten has so emphatically gained the upper hand.

Last meeting: The Gamecocks had never lost four in a row to the Wildcats, and Kentucky added to that dubious distinction with a 24-10 victory that made it five. After a quiet first quarter that ended in a 3-all tie, the Wildcats jumped all over the Gamecocks, taking a 24-3 lead into the locker room behind the efforts of their ground game — led, of course, by noted Gamecock killer Benny Snell Jr., but also with key contributions from A.J. Rose and quarterback Terry Wilson. UK sputtered badly in the second half and was ultimately held scoreless, but its defense picked up the slack and prevented South Carolina from cashing in. As has been typical with this series of late, it was a uniquely frustrating viewing experience.

Last season: The silver lining for USC fans — if you can call it that — is that Kentucky was legitimately a good football team in 2018. The Wildcats posted a 10-3 (5-3) mark to capture their most wins since 1977, a second-place finish in the SEC East, and a final No. 11 ranking after a 27-24 win against No. 13 Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. It was a banner year and one that was much needed for coach Mark Stoops, who had previously seemed mired in 6-7 win mediocrity.

Player to watch: Now, here’s the rub: Can Kentucky keep this up, or did they just hit on the right combination of veteran talent and manageable schedule last season? The Wildcats have a lot to replace — the aforementioned Benny Snell Jr. is finally in the NFL, along with all-everything linebacker Josh Allen. However, quarterback Terry Wilson is back and a talented, dangerous runner who is capable of keeping the offense humming. Without Snell to lean on, though, UK will need Wilson to carry the load, and ideally develop more in the passing game.

Prognosis: I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Kentucky is unlikely to have an encore of its 10-win 2018. The Wildcats have to deal with roster turnover and the loss of some significant starters, and also have to take trips to Georgia and Mississippi State (although the non-conference portion of their schedule remains favorable). UK should be bowl eligible, but to the tune of seven or maybe eight wins this time around. Is this game winnable? Absolutely. Can I project the Gamecocks to come away with the W? Welllll...