SEC PREVIEWS: UK hoping to surprise

As if winning five straight national titles wasn't enough to declare the Southeastern Conference's college football supremacy, the league managed to take it one step further last season when the BCS title game matchup between Alabama and LSU guaranteed a sixth straight national champion from the SEC before the championship game was even played.

So how does seven in a row sound? Well it will be hard to bet against the SEC continuing its dominance, especially with LSU returning 15 starters from last year's squad and BCS champ Alabama still loaded on the offensive side even with the loss of standout running back Trent Richardson.

Yet the big story in SEC Football 2012 is the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the conference, something that figures to make it even tougher to get through the league schedule unscathed. While neither Mizzou nor the Aggies are expected to contend for SEC divisional titles, they both bring solid programs to the league. Missouri was ranked No. 1 in the country five years ago before losing to Oklahoma in the 2007 Big 12 title game, and A&M's Kyle Field is one of the most difficult venues in the country for visiting teams, something Florida, Arkansas and LSU will have to contend with this fall.

The Scout.com publishers believe that LSU and Georgia will repeat as division champions this year with LSU picked to win the SEC Championship. Previews of all 14 SEC teams are about to be featured on GamecockAnthem.com and we start with Kentucky, the predicted last team in the SEC East.



SEC EAST

KENTUCKY (PREDICTED FINISH: 7TH IN EAST)


Kentucky is coming off another tough season, going 5-7 and missing a bowl game after reaching five straight bowls. Going into his third year, Joker Phillips has the talent on hand to make a little noise and get back into the bowl picture.

Sophomore Bud Dupree will make an impact as a hybrid linebacker-defensive end. The 6-4, 245-pound Dupree showed glimpses of greatness as a freshman. The coaching staff believes that he has an opportunity to be an All-SEC player. Also returning on the defensive side of the ball is middle linebacker Avery Williamson (6-1, 240-pounds). Williamson played mostly as a special teams performer, but at the end of the year he split snaps with departed senior Ronnie Sneed.

Kentucky will also have a couple of stalwarts in the middle of the defensive line in juniors Mister Cobble (6-0, 331-pounds) and Donte Rumph (6-3, 315 pounds). Both players were able to get ample snaps last season and get their feet wet in the SEC. Both players know how to throw around their size and should be coming into their own this season.

Collins Ukwu (6-4, 265 pounds), senior Taylor Wyndham (6-4, 255 pounds), sophomore Mike Douglas (6-4, 269 pounds) and redshirt freshman Farrington Huguenin (6-4, 270 pounds) all will help provide pressure from the outside at defensive end. Ukwu, a senior, has been a contributor for years and will be a steadying force for a group that has been inconsistent. Huguenin could be a star in the making from the outside. His ability to rush the passer, yet still play the run will be invaluable for a defense that struggled to get to the quarterback last year.

Kentucky's defensive backs struggled last season as well, but the level of athleticism and talent in this group is evident. Senior Martavius Neloms (6-1, 188 pounds), a two- year starter, returns and will provide leadership and playmaking ability as either a corner or a safety. Marcus Caffey (5-11, 200 pounds) redshirted last season as a running back, but will play his freshman year at corner. He made waves during spring camp and is expected to fight for a starting role beside sophomore Eric Dixon (5-11, 190 pounds). Dixon has the look of a big-time SEC corner and also has the skill set.

At safety Kentucky has two sophomores who played valuable roles last year in the defense – Glenn Faulkner (6-2, 190 pounds) at free-safety and Ashely Lowery (6-2, 210 pounds) at strong safety. Both players have a chance to start next season and will be in the rotation. Their time last year will be important this upcoming fall as they prepare to take on the role as possible starters in the SEC. While the Kentucky defense appears talented and possibly ready for another leap forward in conference, the offense still has a lot of questions. The biggest question is at quarterback, but Maxwell Smith (6-4, 230 pounds), a sophomore, may have provided the answer this spring. He showed command of the offense, and his play since his first appearance last season has earned the respect of his offensive teammates.

Smith will rely on a young set of wide receivers and a mostly rebuilt offensive line. Kentucky returns All-SEC guard Larry Warford (6-3, 330 pounds) for his final year and also returning junior starter Matt Smith (6-4, 295 pounds) at center. But the Wildcats will work in Darrian Miller (6-6, 299 pounds) at left tackle, who played several snaps his freshman year. Zach West (6-5, 304 pounds), a redshirt freshman, has the ability to be a four-year starter at guard, but his inexperience could be a problem early on. The same can be said at right tackle where junior Kevin Mitchell (6-6, 292 pounds) should nail down the starting spot.

The wide receiver unit is not as green as the linemen, but the Wildcats will be searching for a dependable second receiver to line up beside LaRod King (6-4, 211 pounds), another senior. Daryl Collins (5-11, 190 pounds), a redshirt freshman, had a great spring and has the ability to be a go-to type receiver. Also sophomore DeMarco Robinson (5- 10, 170 pounds) was dominant during the spring game and has excellent chemistry with Maxwell Smith. Junior tight end Tyler Robinson (6-3, 255 pounds) was impressive at tight end during the spring.

Kentucky has more questions at running back, but the talent there could be the strongest on the team. Josh Clemons (5-10, 210 pounds) showed flashes of brilliance, as a freshman, before he was hurt; however he's got a chance to reclaim his starting role this year. CoShik Williams (5-9, 180 pounds) provided a spark last season and carried the Wildcats down the stretch. Raymond Sanders (5-8, 200 pounds) and Jonathan George (5- 10, 216 pounds) are both valuable as backups, specifically Sanders who has started a few games in his career.

Joker Phillips has the pieces in place to win some ballgames and recapture the momentum that the program has lost in the past couple of seasons. If Phillips can get the most out of his players, Kentucky could be quite a surprise in the SEC this season.

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