Thanks to Jason and the crew over at A Sea of Blue, I'm proud to present to you all our first Q&A with an opposing blogger for the 2015 season! Without further ado, here's a chance to get to know the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats a little bit better before they take the field in Columbia Saturday night.
1. What are Kentucky's expectations going into 2015?
Get to the postseason. Kentucky needs to win at least six games in 2015 to show the majority of the fanbase that significant progress is being made.
The truth is, however, this program could show a lot of progress by simply going 5-7 again this year. As long as they can beat EKU, Charlotte, and Vanderbilt, just getting that fifth win is going to require UK to get an upset win over someone.
Between South Carolina, Missouri, Louisville, Tennessee, and Mississippi State, right there is six teams inside or just outside the top 25. Florida is a big unknown right now. Assuming UK losses on the road vs. a top-10 Georgia team, it's asking a lot for UK to just get that fifth win, let alone six.
The truth is, South Carolina should have held on to beat UK last year and sent the Cats to a 4-8 record. Instead, UK scored 21 points in the final minutes for a miracle win that ended up being their best win of 2014.
To sum it up, UK needs to get to six wins to please the masses, but the ones who truly follow this program should feel good if they're able to get five wins and be competitive in the other games.
2. It seems as though Kentucky football has been on the rise since Mark Stoops took over as head coach. What as a coach do you think makes him special and capable of creating a winning program in Kentucky?
The rate of player development. Along with Erick Korem's high-performance training program, Stoops has taken players of all star calibers and made them into SEC-level players. Heck, the offensive line is one of the team's biggest strengths, and it consists of three-star recruits with the exception for true freshman George Asafo-Adjei.
On defense, Stoops took a four-star junior college recruit in ZaDarius Smith and helped him get drafted in the fourth round by Baltimore this past year. Stoops also took a former tight end/defensive end convert in Bud Dupree and helped make him a first-round pick this year as well.
While the former defensive coordinator has yet to have UK show significant progress on that side of the ball, it is evident that Stoops knows how to develop his players. He took a roster comprised of mostly two and three-star players when he took over and in one year made them a team capable of going toe-to-toe with SEC teams. That's a dramatic improvement over what they were when Joker Phillips left the program in shambles.
3. From an outside perspective, it felt as though last year's game against South Carolina was a monumental win of sorts for UK's football program. What was that victory like as Wildcats fan?
It really did end up being the highlight of their 2014 season. It was also the signature win of the Stoops era to this point. Even with Carolina's struggles last year, I thought they had a top-25 caliber team that just couldn't finish games, which prevented them from ever reaching close to their full potential.
It wasn't the caliber of team though that made the win special. It was seeing UK down double digits in the fourth quarter and in a situation where they would have mailed it in most years, but they finally shed the loser's mentality and rallied for an amazing win.
4. Bouncing off that question, what was a more emotional roller coaster, beating USC in comeback fashion or ending the season on such a disappointing losing streak?
Emotional roller coaster is one of the themes of UK football, for better or for worse. As good as beating SC felt, losing six straight to end the season was gut-wrenching, especially how they lost narrow games to a top-10 Mississippi State team and a top-25 Louisville team.
5. A lot of hype in the Gamecock community has centered around Pharoh Cooper heading into this season as the Gamecocks' playmaker. Who is Kentucky's biggest play-making threat that South Carolina should fear come Saturday night?
Stanley 'Boom' Williams. It took all of one play to remind everyone that last week. Cooper is a special player, but he's no Boom. There are few players in college football that can match his explosiveness and big-play ability.
Put him on any top-25 team and he's probably getting Heisman hype. Stopping him has to be the No. 1 goal of any UK opponent, and it will undoubtedly be the key to SC getting the win. Boom was suspended last year for the SC game, so the Gamecocks don't exactly have experience stopping him, so it will be interesting to see how they defend him this week.
6. What did you like after watching the Wildcats in the season opener against UL-Lafayette?
Meh. Week 1 is so hard to take away anything and put too much stock into. As bad as UK looked during their mini-meltdown against UL-Lafayette, I thought they looked like a better team than South Carolina frankly did against North Carolina.
But that's the thing: How good is North Carolina? How good is UL-Lafeyette? Was last week the best UK could play? Was that the worst SC could possibly look and still beat a bowl-caliber team?
I never put too much stock into the first game after players just spent eight months not playing in a live game. It's still too early to see the full potential of what most teams could be, especially with two teams as young as UK and SC are with so many new players and coordinators.
That's also why I'm not going to be surprised really at whatever happens Saturday night.
7. I can't let you go without asking you about basketball. Is this year's Kentucky men's bball squad really more talented than last year's?
8. What's your prediction for this Saturday's game?
UK hasn't won a road game since their first game of 2010 at Louisville. Last week didn't do anything to make me feel like their ready to break that streak this week, so I'm going with the Gamecocks to win a fairly close game, 27-23.