Spring fever: Kentucky

Another sign that the end of the world is near: The Kentucky Wildcats have won bowl games three consecutive years.

That may not sound like a big deal to some but it's the first time in program history it's happened for the Big Blue. Heck, it's only the second time the Wildcats have PLAYED in bowl games three consecutive years. The previous time was in 1949, '50 and '51 under some guy named Paul "Bear" Bryant.

The obvious question: Can the Cats keep rolling and bowling in 2009?

Yes, because Kentucky has discovered the formula for just about guaranteeing a low-level bowl bid: Pad your won-lost record against non-conference cupcakes.

Clearly, the Big Blue has refined this to an art form. Consider:

- UK was 2-6 against SEC opponents last fall, 5-0 against non-conference opponents.

- UK averaged 17.9 points per game against SEC opponents last fall, 30.0 points per game against non-conference opponents.

- UK allowed 29.8 points per game against SEC opponents last fall, 8.2 points per game against non-conference opponents.

- UK was outscored by 12 points per game (30-18) vs. SEC opponents but outscored its non-conference opponents by 22 points per game (30-8).

Kentucky's four regular-season non-conference opponents of 2008 were Louisville (5-7), Middle Tennessee (5-7), Western Kentucky (2-10) and Norfolk State (5-7) of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Div. 1-AA.

The Big Blue's 2009 non-conference schedule is similarly soft – featuring a return engagement with Louisville, plus games with Miami of Ohio (2-10 last year), Louisiana-Monroe (4-8 last year) and another Football Championship Subdivision foe, Eastern Kentucky (8-4 last year).

Since Kentucky should go 4-0 in non-conference action, it merely needs to post another 2-6 SEC mark to qualify for a fourth consecutive bowl bid in 2009. That appears do-able.

On paper, the Wildcats seem a little better than last year. Mike Hartline, back for another season as the No. 1 quarterback, completed 17 of 33 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. His top target is the guy who shared the QB chores last fall, Randall Cobb. Cobb supposedly will play exclusively wide receiver this fall, except for taking an occasional shotgun snap in UK's "Wildcat" package.

Kentucky should have a productive ground attack due to the presence of three solid tailbacks – Alfonso Smith, Derrick Locke and Moncell Allen. The Wildcats project to be good on defense, as well, since three standout juniors – cornerback Trevard Lindley, defensive end Jeremy Jarmon and middle linebacker Micah Johnson – elected to postpone their NFL futures and return for '09.

Bottom line: The Wildcats finished dead last in the SEC East at 2-6 last fall but still managed a bowl bid and a winning record. This fall could shake out pretty much the same way.


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