When you pick up a copy of a new college football yearbook, it’s going to be the same old story about the Kentucky Wildcats, who have struggled for years to be respectable in very tough SEC.
Like nearly all seasons in the past, the Cats aren’t expected to set the football world on fire this fall. Not surprisingly, the preseason yearbooks — Athlon Sports (athlonsports.com), Lindy’s Sports (lindyssports.com) and Sporting News (sportingnews.com) — have picked UK to finish near the bottom of the SEC East Division, just ahead of Vanderbilt.
While the Sporting News did not have the Cats to go bowling during the Christmas/New Year holidays, Athlon has them finishing at 6-6 with a lower-tier bowl trip. While Lindy’s says good things are now happening in the UK program during the Mark Stoops era, the magazine mentions that two victories over SEC foes sound reasonable.
All three publications have listed UK at No. 6 with Vandy last in the division. Interestingly, all three have Georgia as the top team from the East with an improving Tennessee squad following at No. 2. As for overall national rankings, Athlon and Lindy’s have Kentucky at No. 55 and No. 59, respectively.
Nick Saban’s Alabama and Gus Malzahn’s Auburn, meanwhile, are the only consensus SEC teams to be ranked among the Top-10 nationally with coach Urban Meyer’s No. 1 Ohio State squad the heavy favorite to repeat as the national champion. Mark Richt’s Georgia club, though, is mentioned in a couple of Top-25 ratings as the Bulldogs, led by running back sensation Nick Chubb, are placed at No. 10.
Kentucky, by the way, faces Auburn, featuring preseason All-American wide receiver Duke Williams, in a rare Thursday night matchup (Oct. 15) on ESPN in Lexington. Later, the Cats — who have eight home games this season — will battle Georgia in early November in Athens.
The only UK players who received preseason All-SEC honors from these three publications are sophomore placekicker Austin MacGinnis (first-team choice on all three yearbooks), sophomore running back Stanley Williams and senior offensive lineman Jordan Swindle.
As a redshirt freshman last season, MacGinnis, a native of Wedowee, Ala., set six school records, making 21 field goals, the most in Kentucky history. He also had the most field goals in the SEC and finished with a school-record 104 points — equaling the SEC lead — and was one of only five kickers in the nation with three field goals of 50-plus yards. MacGinnis, who made a UK record 41 extra-point tries without a miss in 2014, set another school mark with the longest field goal in school history, a 54-yard boot at Tennessee.
Williams, who was named to The Sporting News All-True Freshman Team last season, led UK in kickoff returns with 19 returns for 511 yards and a 26.9 average. He ranked second in the nation among true freshmen in kickoff return average, checking in 11th overall. A native of Monroe, Ga., Williams led the Wildcats in all-purpose yards with 1,159, averaging 115.9 yards per game. That total ranked him 59th nationally and sixth among freshmen.
The 6-7, 309-pound Swindle is a two-year starter from St. Johns, Fla. He is a vocal leader who had spent a lot time practicing against then-UK star defensive end Bud Dupree, who became a first-round NFL Draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Obviously, UK has other standouts such as center Jon Toth and linebacker Josh Forrest, but it’s not that easy to get a lot of preseason recognition especially since the program hasn’t had a winning season since 2009.
Kentucky will kick off its 2015 season against Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference on Sept. 5 at the newly-revamped Commonwealth Stadium. The Ragin’ Cajuns are coming off four straight 9-4 seasons.
Nevertheless, these colorful yearbooks, as usual, are loaded with enjoyable feature articles, bowl projections, team previews, photos, statistics, among others. While I may not agree with some of their predictions, they certainly are a joy to have around at your home. It’s something that I have always had every year during the summer months since I was a kid growing up in the foothills of Kentucky.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]