SEC mailbag: What's the ceiling for Kentucky?
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
As I stated in my chat earlier this week, be looking out in the next week for our updated Top 25 list of the best players in the SEC. We'll count them down in chunks of five, going in reverse order.
We'll also expand in the coming weeks on some of the players who need to come through for the various teams next season, as well as players who broke through this spring.
I also plan to be in Destin, Fla., at the end of this month for the SEC spring meetings.
Lane Kiffin, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier all in the same room.
Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall?
In fact, we're working on installing secret video cameras in the room where the football coaches will be meeting ...
Before we dive into the weekend, let's open up the SEC mailbag:
Anthony in Louisville, Ky., writes: Hey Chris, what do you think will be the glass ceiling for Kentucky this upcoming season? I think the very best they can hope for is eight wins. What do you think?
Chris Low: I'll answer your question with a question: What is Mike Hartline's ceiling as a quarterback? If he improves as a passer and the Wildcats can generate a more effective downfield passing game, I think they have a great shot to get to a bowl game for a fourth straight year. I'll be interested to see how they use Randall Cobb on offense next season now that he's spending most of his time at receiver. For the Wildcats to be as good as they can be offensively, he's certainly got to touch it more than four or five times a game. I think the defense will be comparable to last season's unit and maybe even better if players like Winston Guy, Danny Trevathan and Chandler Burden come through. I'll go with eight regular-season wins as the ceiling for this Kentucky team if everything goes right. That means the Wildcats would probably have to take care of Louisville for a third straight year, not to mention find at least two road wins in trips to South Carolina, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Georgia. How Kentucky comes out of that Florida-Alabama home stretch on Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 will also be critical.
Ethan in Fayetteville, Ark., writes: Chris, most media outlets have Ole Miss and Alabama as the front runners for the SEC West crown. Where do you see the Razorbacks finishing in the West? With new coaches at Mississippi State and Auburn and a two-game win streak against LSU, do you think the Hogs have a shot at finishing second or third in the West?
Chris Low: I would say yes if the schedule weren't such a monster. I realize Georgia's schedule is tough next season, but I can't imagine a more daunting schedule than the one the Hogs will face. Geez, they've got to go to Alabama, to Florida, to Ole Miss and to LSU. The Florida and Ole Miss trips are in back-to-back weeks in October, too. The swing game for Arkansas is that home date against Georgia the second game of the season on Sept. 19. I believe the Razorbacks have to win that game if they're going to have a winning season next year. So I'll go out on a limb and predict a bowl game for the Hogs because I think they're going to be the most improved team in the SEC, but I don't see them finishing in the top two spots of the West race because of their schedule.
Jess in Oregon writes: Are the SEC teams ever going to change their weak out-of-conference scheduling? Everybody schedules easy opponents and always at home with the exception of a few. Do fans in the SEC actually prefer the potential for a better record than watching good games? Look at the upcoming season. It is pathetic. Everybody says the SEC is tough enough as it is, but I'm not buying it for a few reasons. If you are so good, then prove it. You'd rather watch your team blow out FAU or whoever else than see a great power conference matchup? Why? When are fans going to realize they are getting taken for money? They say it is getting harder to schedule teams, which isn't true. I remember LSU playing a home game against Oregon State in 2004 (thriller) and then they wouldn't return the favor and travel. However, they decided to come out West this year, though after Washington went winless last year (risky). Thoughts?
Chris Low: To answer some of your latter points first, the schedules are typically made out several years in advance. So LSU didn't wait to see that Washington was on its way to a winless season and all of a sudden schedule the Huskies. The Oregon State game was a "buy" game. The Beavers received $1 million, which at that time was believed to be the highest non-bowl payout in college football history, to come to Baton Rouge and play.
But generally, I agree with you. I'd like to see the SEC teams be more aggressive when it comes to playing compelling intersectional games. They're getting better. Georgia is opening next season at Oklahoma State. Alabama, which opens next season against Virginia Tech in Atlanta, will face Penn State at home in 2010 and then travel to Happy Valley in 2011. The Crimson Tide will also play a home-and-home series with Michigan State in 2016 and 2017. Tennessee has Oklahoma, Oregon, Nebraska and Ohio State all coming up on its schedule, while Arkansas recently signed a 10-year deal with Texas A&M. LSU has a two-game series with West Virginia beginning in 2010.
In short, the nonconference matchups are getting more attractive. Florida is a unique case. The Gators are never going to leave the state of Florida to face a tough nonconference foe because the Gators play Florida State every year. To answer your question about what SEC fans want to see, they want to see their teams play for and win SEC championships and be in the hunt to play for BCS national championships. So far, that formula has worked out pretty well for them. The SEC has won four of the last six BCS national titles.
Ryan in Baton Rouge, La., writes: Do you believe LSU has a realistic chance to win the SEC championship in 2009? If so, what will have to happen on the offensive side of the ball?
Chris Low: I've got LSU in a three-way scrum with Alabama and Ole Miss for the Western Division title, but Florida is my choice (and most people's choice) to win its second straight SEC title. The offensive recipe for the Tigers winning the 2009 SEC title, though, would include quarterback Jordan Jefferson having the kind of sophomore season Jevan Snead did last season at Ole Miss and Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle both having huge true freshman seasons. They're both plenty capable. It sounds like LSU will move Shepard around some after he showed what he could do with the ball in his hands this spring. Randle arrives this summer and has an excellent chance to jump right into the Tigers' receiver rotation. Brandon LaFell will need some help. Getting Trindon Holliday more involved offensively would also be a plus. Up front, I expect LSU to again be very good with left tackle Ciron Black leading the way. The key for the offensive line will be how well T-Bob Hebert recovers from his knee injury. If he's healthy, he's exactly what Les Miles is looking for at center. All in all, I just think there are too many ifs for the Tigers to win the SEC title in 2009.