Kentucky football: 8 bold predictions for the rest of UK's 2021 season
All but the most optimistic of Kentucky fans are positively surprised to see the Wildcats hit their bye week with a 6-1 record. UK will play in its 6th consecutive bowl game under coach Mark Stoops, which is a program record. In addition, the Wildcats are all but assured of their 2nd winning SEC record since 1977 — with both of those seasons in the last 4 years. But don’t think Kentucky is resting on its laurels. There’s plenty at stake the rest of the way for the Wildcats, and here are 8 bold predictions for how it all shakes down.
1. Will Levis’ upswing continues
Levis’ transition into being UK’s starting QB has been up and down, but in Kentucky’s last 2 games, he has been phenomenal at completing passes (46-of-59) and avoiding turnovers (0 interceptions against 5 TD passes). Levis’ days of throwing 17 or 18 passes as UK grinds out a win are probably done. Given the potent offenses left on the schedule, Kentucky will likely continue to give Levis more freedom in the passing game, and he’ll probably continue to thrive.
2. C-Rod will top 1,000 rushing yards, won’t lead the SEC in rushing
Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez Jr. leads the SEC in rushing (775 yards, 40 more than Missouri’s Tyler Badie), but we don’t see him finishing there. Rodriguez will rack up 1,200 yards or so, but Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller will come from behind to win the league rushing title, if Badie doesn’t for a Missouri team that won’t waste any time on a defense stopping anybody. Meanwhile, Kentucky will continue to work in the passing game and rely on Kavosiey Smoke, who will top 500 rushing yards himself as Rodriguez’s standout backup. There will also be some carry limits on Rodriguez to protect him against the Vandys and New Mexico States of the world.
3. Wan’Dale Robinson has the 6th 1,000-yard receiving season in UK history
Robinson is Kentucky’s best receiver since exactly who? Randall Cobb in 2010 was the last Wildcat to hit the 1,000-yard plateau, and there’s a good argument that he’s the answer to that question. Not only do we think Robinson becomes just the 6th Wildcat to hit 1,000 receiving yards in a season, but he has a shot at the UK record of 90 catches (he’s at 49 now), and he seems all but certain to eclipse Lynn Bowden’s mark of 67, which is the most for any UK player under Stoops. The waves that Kentucky is making in recruiting receivers shows what an immediate impact Robinson is having in the program.
4. Vito Tisdale will be back in a big way
Tisdale was kind of a forgotten man in Lexington for the 1st half of the season, languishing on the sideline due to an off-field legal situation that was finally resolved a few weeks ago. But Tisdale was a hard hitter last season, racking up 20 tackles as a true freshman, including 6 in UK’s Gator Bowl win. Kentucky’s secondary has been fairly solid, but it hasn’t forced very many turnovers (UK’s 3 interceptions are tied with Ole Miss for fewest in the league). Look for more time for Tisdale down the stretch, and look for UK to pick up more turnovers.
5. Kentucky won’t give up 30 points again
Georgia put up 30 points on Kentucky, which was the first time UK had allowed that many this season. And it’s a big number. When the Wildcats allow fewer than 30 points under Stoops, they are 48-21. When they allow 30 or more, they’re 7-30. Obviously, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Louisville each brings a challenging offense, but the Wildcats are unlikely to get lit up by any of that group. For UK and Stoops, keeping these foes under 30 will probably follow the script for success.
6. Stoops is SEC Coach of the Year, and doesn’t go anywhere
Kentucky’s 2018 success seemed to be viewed as something of a fluke on the national stage. But a second 10-win season in Lexington is definitive proof that there was nothing fluky about it. Stoops won the league’s coach of the year in 2018, and he’ll beat out Kirby Smart for a 2nd such trophy.
Stoops’ upward mobility is getting national talk, but at his roots, Stoops seems in no hurry to get dragged into an LSU-like environment of unmanageable expectations. He’s beloved in Lexington, he is well paid, and provided that UK athletic ddirector Mitch Barnhart can make a full-sized indoor practice facility a reality, Stoops might listen to some of the overtures out there, but he’ll stay in Lexington.
7. UK goes 11-1
The path is there for the Wildcats. At this point, the biggest challenge left on the schedule is probably at home against Tennessee on Nov. 6. And yes, the Vols who thumped Mizzou and South Carolina look imposing, but this is still the same UT team that lost to Pitt, that got popped by Florida by 24 points and that just took a shot on the chin from Alabama.
At Mississippi State is a challenge, and Louisville figures to be up for the intrastate rivalry. But as long as Kentucky executes and stays reasonably healthy (which is always a concern), there’s no reason the Wildcats don’t win out and have their first 11-win season.
8. The ‘Cats don’t make the CFP, but do make their first NY6 bowl appearance in the Peach Bowl
Granted, this is certainly Kentucky’s 1st appearance in the modern NY6 grouping, which began in 2014. But ultimately, it’s their 1st appearance in any of the bowls that now make up the NY6 since the 1993 Peach Bowl. The Sugar Bowl might be a little more glamorous, but Kentucky’s massive Atlanta-area connections will come out big-time for the Peach Bowl. With no conference tie-ins, it’s not super clear whom the Wildcats will face, but Wake Forest seems like a pretty good guess.